MORGOTH was in the beginning of the 90s probably the most successful and known Death Metal band to emerge from Germany. In 1987, two teenagers – Rüdiger Hennecke and Carsten Otterbach – both heavily addicted to bands like POSSESSED, DARK ANGEL and KREATOR, decided to form their own band. They start to rehearse by the name CADAVEROUS SMELL with a sort of Grindcore-like chaos as result. The band had no real structure during the first couple of months until Harry Busse joins the band. Harry already played piano for like ten years and brought the first and very necessary harmonies and structure in their music. The band got a new name, MINAS MORGUL, found a rehearsal place in an old school building and started searching for a fitting vocalist. Nobody was really god enough and had the necessary capacities until a friend of theirs, Marc Grewe, became the vocalist after he had ‘sung’ to the KREATOR classic ‘Flag Of Hate’ in Carsten’s apartment. The band bought own equipment, found a new and own rehearsal place (an old slaughterhouse) and changed their name once more into MORGOTH. The release of the "Best Of Morgoth" album was the ideal occasion to have a look at the history of MORGOTH… Hereby the testimonies of Marc Grewe (vocals) and Sebastian Swart (bass)…
Marc: "Back in 1987 – we were all about fifteen years old back then – we were all huge fans of Tolkien’s book "Lord Of The Rings". It was about the most impressive book we ever read, you could totally imagine how the different characters of the book would look like. And the evil figures and characters from that book were like the ideal source of inspiration when we were looking for the right name of our band (MORGOTH is the name Fëanor gave to Melkor after he had stolen the Silmarillion jewels, see Tolkien’s book “The Silmarillion” – Steven). Back then, we practiced every day and worked all the time on our first songs, stuff like ‘The Beyond’ or ‘Being Boiled’. Slowly but steady, we started to develop our own style, a pretty extreme form of Thrash Metal which we gave the name ‘Ultra Thrash’ (laughs). Dirk Draeger, a friend of ours who would work with us on all our albums later on rehearsed with his own band THE SHORT ROMANS right next to us. Since Dirk already had some studio-experience, we asked him if he wanted to help us with the recording of our first demo, the legendary "Pits Of Utumno" demo which is now also relased on the “Best Of” album. We recorded that demo on four tracks in 1988, I didn’t have much singing-experience back then. We sent the tape to different magazines and every record company we knew like Noise Records, Steamhammer… We didn’t receive a reaction from anybody – probably our music was a bit too extreme for them – until we received a letter from Robert Kampf who was rather interested in us and had just started up his own label, Century Media, to release the recordings of his own band, DESPAIR. Spring ‘89, we scraped all our money together and recorded our second demo, "Resurrection Absurd", in a better twenty-four-track studio. I have experimented with my vocals much more on those recordings. I was also already a bit older, therefore my vocals sounded already a bit more like a man and not like some teenager (laughs). We signed a deal with Century Media and in October ’89, they released our second demo "Resurrection Absurd" as an EP on vinyl."
Next to some one-off shows which you played in Germany, you already toured through Europe in spring 1990 together with AUTOPSY and PESTILENCE. I still remember very well that in Belgium and the Netherlands, you got replaced by BOLT THROWER…
Marc: "That’s right. That tour was really great… no showers, very bad food, a van which was really a disaster (laughs)… but it was fun anyway. Back then, we played only in Germany, Austria and Switzerland because those were the only countries where Century Media had a proper distribution. And so, you know the reason why we didn’t play in Belgium and the Netherlands back then. After the PESTILENCE / AUTOPSY tour, we still played at some festivals and went back into the studio pretty fast to record some new songs with "The Eternal Fall" EP as result. We had self-financed the recordings of "Resurrection Absurd", so we had much more possibilities for "The Eternal Fall" and were even able to ask Scott Burns to mix our material at his Morrissound studio (DEATH, MORBID ANGEL, OBITUARY…). After the release of "The Eternal Fall" in August 1990, we immediately went on a rather big tour through Europe together with OBITUARY and DEMOLITION HAMMER. That tour was without any doubt the best one we ever did… so many cool and funny things happened on that tour, all the bands also got along really great with each other. For example, I’ll probably never forget how Vinny Daze of DEMOLITION HAMMER started to freak totally naked in the prostitution-area in Hamburg (laughs). There are countless cool stories to tell from that tour, maybe you should ask Trevor of OBITUARY if you have the chance, he probably also still has quite some stories to tell…"
In November 1990, Marc decided to concentrate exclusively on his singing from now on and so MORGOTH went looking for a new bassplayer… which they found in the back then only seventeen years old Sebastian Swart who was playing bass in probably one of Germany’s most underrated bands ever, DARK MILLENNIUM.
Sebastian: "I was playing guitar in DARK MILLENNIUM for like three months when I joined MORGOTH to play bass after a chat with Harry. It was the intention that my first gig with MORGOTH would be in Poland on the Metal Mania festival but we never made it because Harry’s Opel broke down on our way to the festival (laughs). So my first gig took eventually place in Fagersta in Sweden where we played together with ATHEIST, ENTOMBED and CANDLEMASS. This gig was very exciting for me, especially since I didn’t have that much experience on stage. I really liked ENTOMBED back then, CANDLEMASS was not really my cup of tea though … It’s really a strange coincidence but this week I received a recording of that show from a collector from Australia. The quality of the recording is of course pretty bad but still it’s pretty funny to watch it now after so many years (laughs)."
In February 1991, you went to the Woodhouse studio to record your first ‘real’ full-length album, "Cursed". Many Death Metal fans see "Cursed" as the highlight in your career. You can easily hear that you made a huge progression as a band: the material was better, the arrangements much more developed, the lyrics were given more thought
Sebastian: "The songs of the “Cursed “album were already as good as finished when I joined the band, so I didn’t contribute much to the songwriting of that album. It was the first time for me to be in a studio to record so it was pretty logical that I was a bit nervous in the beginning but things get better and better after the first couple of days. “Cursed” also turned out to be a much more atmospheric album than the previous MORGOTH releases, also because all of us had just recorded the dark side of gothic rock. A band like FIELDS OF THE NEPHILIM has definitely influenced “Cursed”, we really had a closer look at how they presented their stuff without copying them. There also were some plans for quite a while to record something with the vocalist of FIELDS OF THE NEPHILIM, Carl McCoy, but in the end none of these plans have become reality.“
Marc: “We all had the feeling that “Cursed” was absolutely the best we had done so far. The material had this dark edge to it which we really liked. We went to the States to let Randy Burns mix the album. He had worked on some of our fave albums, Mille of KREATOR also advised him to us.”
After the release of "Cursed", you immediately went on tour for three months through America together with KREATOR and BIOHAZARD.
Sebastian: “Yeah, we shared a bus with KREATOR. BIOHAZARD were not very well-known yet back then and drove behind our bus all the time in a small van. That van was of course way too small for so many people, so most of the time several people of BIOHAZARD also stayed and slept on our bus. BIOHAZARD knew America of course much better than we did and so they guided us around in many cities. There were some gigs on that tour which I still remember very well. We were playing once in New Mexico in Albuquerque and the audience there was really totally into our stuff, the fans were already shouting our bandname at the early beginning of the evening. That gig was really chaotic, absolute madness! The strange thing is that back in 1991, nobody in America could really know MORGOTH. So, it was really impressive the way they welcomed us! We also played at Hollywood Palladium in front of 2.500 fans. I was a very big SLAYER fan and SLAYER guitarist Jeff Hanneman was also there that evening which I thought was pretty cool (laughs)! During that tour, we played more than sixty gigs and therefore we had turned into a really tight band when we returned to Europe and played at various festivals. I can remember the recordings of the video for ‘Isolated’ very well, we played at the Rock Hard festival in Lichtenfels in front of a pretty big audience. During autumn, we traveled through Europe for two months together with MASSACRE and IMMOLATION. "Cursed" was doing extremely well and sold more than a 100.000 copies… For the first time in our career, we had enough money for a decent lightshow, backdrops and all that… Death Metal was absolutely at the peak of its popularity, all the clubs were totally packed and almost every show was sold out."
After a pretty long and intensive period of recording / touring, you decided to take a rather long break to get inspired again. Rüdiger, Carsten and Marc concentrated on their studies while Harry and Sebastian used the opportunity to travel to various places around the world. The band also searched for a new rehearsal place as almost everybody in the band had moved to Dortmund. Dortmund, a pretty grey industrial city, definitely had its mark on the album "Odium", a record where the band experimented for the first time with some industrial influences.
Sebastian: "During that break I traveled to Mexico, Thailand, Canada and America. I always found the contradictions in those countries when you compare them to Europe really fascinating and interesting. Meschede – the city where we all came from – is very small, there’s absolutely nothing going on and nothing to do. Dortmund was already like a sort of metropol to us which had indeed its influences on the songwriting for “Odium”. There are like two years between the recording of “Odium” and “Cursed “. During that period, we gained a lot of experience as a band, so the recording sessions for “Odium” were somehow much more relaxed. After the release of "Odium", we did several tours, for example one with TANKARD and A.O.K. which was a really strange package to say the least (laughs) and also with UNLEASHED and TIAMAT. The UNLEASHED / TIAMAT tour was really good, many people came to see that tour, almost all the gigs were sold out. I have also always liked a band like TIAMAT myself. Strange enough, we never really had a sort of ‘breakthrough’ in Belgium, I have no explanation for it. I can still remember a gig in Belgium where we played in front of like thirty people and the next day in Leipzig in front of 1.200 (laughs)."
Slowly but surely the enthusiasm within the band started to fade a little. Touring for "Odium" was okay but the band had the feeling that this special feeling and magic of the early days was gone. The ‘spirit’ of the old days was gone, playing gigs became routine and a kind of job
Sebastian: “The pleasant tension you can have on stage and the ‘innocence’ of the early days were definitely gone. Touring became routine and more like a normal job. “Odium” also didn’t sell as good as “Cursed” did. Strange enough, when I talk to people nowadays, many think nowadays that “Odium” is our best record. Maybe “Odium” was just a bit too different and ‘strange’ for those days and people were not ready for it…“
Marc: “We really didn’t feel satisfied anymore with the situation. "Odium" didn’t do bad at all but it was clear that this album wasn’t appreciated by the fans as much as the earlier records. With “Cursed”, we had tried to break out of the Death Metal boundaries but people didn’t like this at all. We had hoped that our fans would be open-minded enough and had grown musically together with us but a big part of our audience was definitely not ready for it back then. "
Sebastian: “At the time of “The Eternal Fall” and “Cursed”, Death Metal was really booming like it never did before. Those albums were really perfect for that time and also totally fit into the spirit and the trends of that period. We never really cared what others did musically, we always did what we liked ourselves. And “Odium” was definitely a bit too different and too ‘new’ to be really appreciated by a Death Metal audience.”
After the "Odium" period, the band decided together to put the band activities on a very low scale. Carsten started up a management bureau (which he still has today), Rüdiger started working for the music channel VIVA and was partly responsible for the Metal show "Metalla". Marc took some singing lessons, started a new project – POWER OF EXPRESSION – and worked for Century Media for quite a while. It took more than a year before the band started to think about new material again. The event which really got the band going again was the offer to play a show in Mexico at the end of 1994.
Sebastian: “We got an offer to play a gig in Mexico and we really didn’t want to let that possibility slip away. We were in Mexico for four days, had a look at the city, visited the pyramids and played one gig which went really excellent. We noticed that there still was a sort of ‘fire’ burning inside us for the band and after we returned to Germany, we started working on new material rather fast.”
Marc: "That sold-out gig in Mexico did us very good as a band. When we were home again, it really was surprising how all of us agreed on the musical path we wanted to take in the future. All our heads were in the same direction. The atmosphere within the band was very relaxed… just like in the beginning of the band everybody could let the others hear his ideas but this time without the fear that it wouldn’t ‘fit’ within the Death Metal frame. The ideas of Harry, Rüdiger and Sebastian were very different and very much influenced by bands they had listened to in the 80s. Our last record, “Feel Sorry For The Fanatic” really had as good as nothing to do anymore with the Death Metal from the time we started as a band."
Sebastian: “The change of musical style between “Feel Sorry For The Fanatic” and “Odium” was maybe a bit extreme but we really wanted to do our own thing and didn’t want to make any compromises. As a band, we got better technically, we had many good ideas and we were also really enthusiastic again… Many have said that there were quite some KILLING JOKE influences in that record, which is somehow correct and which we also never denied because KILLING JOKE were definitely one of our biggest influences back then.”
After the release of "Feel Sorry For The Fanatic", you went on tour with DIE KRUPPS and RICHTHOFEN. On the 5th of June 1997 you played your last show at La Locomotive in Paris.
Sebastian: “That’s correct. Before that tour, I wasn’t familiar at all with the material of DIE KRUPPS, but during those gigs I started to like them more and more. DIE KRUPPS and MORGOTH somehow really fitted musically, we also played in front of a rather big audiences, the shows were visited quite good by the people. The sad thing is that we started under bad circumstances. The father of Rüdiger had died just a couple of days before the start of the tour and it was obvious that he couldn’t go with us because he had to take care of all kinds of details for the funeral. So, the first two weeks of that tour, we played with Markus Freiwald of the band DESPAIR as a stand-in drummer, afterwards Rüdiger joined the band again. That gig in Paris was indeed our last gig but it wasn’t really planned or anything. We just noticed that touring really wasn’t 100% our thing anymore. We never released an official statement or anything that MORGOTH split up. It’s just that the ‘fire’ was gone… It was very clear for us that we didn’t want to continue with the band anymore. When I overlook our ‘career’ nowadays, I can only say that the time we had a fantastic time with MORGOTH. We have learned a lot and made all kinds of experiences. We saw many things and went to places and countries were most people will probably never go to during their whole life…”
Many bands like for example DESTRUCTION, NASTY SAVAGE or DEATH ANGEL are active again these days, tour again and release new material. I can’t imagine that you wouldn’t have received any offer so far to play a few reunion-shows.
Marc: “That’s right, we got an offer from the organizators of Wacken to play there in 2005, the With Full Force festival is also pretty interested. First we will have to sit together again and have a serious talk about. I haven’t seen some of the others for almost a year. We’ll see…”
Sebastian: “We got quite a few festival-offers lately. If we really wanted to, we could play at some festivals in the summer without any problem. But if it all would happen in the end, I don’t think it will be in the original line-up. But never say never… Marc and I both live in Berlin nowadays and we have a new project together called ACTION JACKSON. We just recorded a demo, sent it to different record companies and I’m really looking forward to the first reactions to that demo.”
Interview: Steven Willems
all live pics: Morgoth