A break from activities was announced at the end of 2015. Why this break and how was it planned?
I think we talked about this for a long time, but we felt the twentieth anniversary was a perfect moment to do that. We were not really sure how long this break should be, but we released so many albums and did so many tours. We always had a schedule all the time like two years ahead. So you feel all the time like in the middle of a turning wheel. So we definitely wanted to have a little distance from the business at all. It was a good moment. The twentieth anniversary was a nice event we could prepare and afterwards it was quite strange, because we had no dates, no rehearsals, just off time from what we had done all the twenty years before.
Can you tell something about the event of ‘Das Letzte Abendmahl’, the twentieth anniversary happening?
We collected it on a blu-ray as extra for the new album. Only blu-ray, because we shot it in HD and it is a bit problematic these days, because everybody is watching the stuff for free on YouTube, The only thing that can convince some buyers is that you have high class recordings. So we decided to do only a blu-ray, the possibility was there and it was a nice thing to capture this special moment and this special show. It was probably the longest show we ever played. It was like two and a half hours, a few friends and guest musicians on stage. And as we did not knew at that time – if we would continue the band and how long the break would be – it was a great and at the same time a sentimental feeling being on stage. In one way you had to say goodbye for an uncertain time and especially at the end of the show, if you check the movie again and again, and you watch us on stage and the fans, you can feel the little sad feeling at the end of the show, but I think in the end it was absolutely necessary to do the break, because we felt, not only… it was not like and burnt out feeling when you are absolutely tired of the music, we just felt we had to concentrate on other things in order to have different impressions and everybody was longing for a longer trip or having more time for the family and everything you cannot do when you are in a band that’s constantly playing and touring. When we started we were teenagers, now we are fathers and have a lot of other responsibilities. In the end it was for us a perfect thing, because when I feel the nice and great energy when we came back together at the rehearsal room, it was amazing. With the rehearsals for the new album, it was a total different feel. We had a lot of joy and passion that we did not feel for a long time. In some way it was easier to complete this album.
It shines through in the energy of the new album. Is there something that had been waiting for a long time in your life, you could realize during the break?
Actually yes. I was able to travel to Japan. That was something I wanted to do for a long time and not only for a couple of weeks. I wanted to feel the impact of a different culture. Ady and Fuchs went to Cambodia and Malaysia. We always liked to explore different kinds of cultures, because then you have a different view on things that happen in Europe and in your own country. It was always a key-point for the band to have the time to discover the earth and to travel around, and probably you are not able to do that with a regular job. So it gives us freedom and new things and ideas that appear into your brain and to your mind. In the end being in a band is also a kind of storytelling somehow and if nothing is happening in your life, it is probably difficult to tell and write down interesting stories and lyrics and that can probably bore people. It is part of the thing to discover things that others are not able to do and then you have the freedom to tell them and they can listen and read your mind and thoughts. So the whole band gets this freedom rolling, that’s very important I think.
I remember for the former album, you spent time in a boat, in a cabin in nature and in the US. Did you do something special this time?
(laughs) No, this time it was very, very basics. We tried to get inspiration for the last album to combine this travelling with the band and go to different places. We tried to be creative at different places, but this time we said that we just wanted to keep things simple. If you go on a boat or in a holiday house and try to make your music environment working, it takes a lot of efforts. You need some technicians and you have to carry a lot of stuff, so before playing a single note, there is a lot of work and costs for bringing the stuff to another place. This time we thought: let’s do it like in the early days. We meet in the evenings, drink some beers and then we have just a good time in the rehearsal room and just record some stuff. I think this way was much more easy to achieve some results. You know, you always look back to your old records and after some months or years maybe you changed your opinions about decisions you made in the past, so I had the feeling that for the last record, it was a huge project. You had this double album, you had this acoustic album, that you had to record simultaneously with the first album and it was a lot of brainwork to do. So a lot of scheduling things and also it was a lot of switching emotions from day to day. This time it was much more focused on a certain feeling you had inside. This new album comes from the belly. We did not have to rehearse every song one hundred times until we felt it was perfect, because with these new guys – we changed the producer you know – he just came to our hometown and said: let’s go to the rehearsal room and play the songs you have already. Then we played like ten songs to them and they told us: guys, to be honest, this sounds very awesome. It has a lot of raw energy, lots of passion. Don’t waste your time changing too much on the songs, because it would blur your original emotion. Because the very first magic ideas are often the best you can capture, but a professional musician has so much self-critic. You always think: can I do this idea somehow better? Then you start to rethink for months about a brilliant song and in the end it is just different. It is not better or worse, just different. Your original emotion has changed. From the start we thought: let us keep things simple. Always. This was the key-point for this album.
The album has a vibe that goes back to the early days, when you were a black/death metal band with folk influences. I think the fans from the beginning will love this album…
Oh yes I think so. The feedback we got so far was really overwhelming. I think not too many people expected an album like this from us again. Especially the last albums, we discovered a lot of different musical horizons. We wanted to be creative, we got so many ideas, but at some point you think: okay, we tried a lot, but sometimes you miss this raw and pure metal feeling. Every human being hopefully changes his opinions and changes his mind and grows over the years. We felt it should be not that difficult, not that complicated. In the end we are still the metalheads we were when we founded the band and we listen mostly to heavy metal and we enjoy all about this scene. We definitely wanted to make a raw and intense album.
I can understand that a musician wants to try different things when being in business for quite a while, but the roots will never disappear… that’s maybe what you try to tell me…
When we did this twentieth anniversary, we published a book. I wrote the band biography, so a lot of old stories were always in our heads and then you realize: oh my God, we are doing this for two decades already. Due to these old stories, it kept in our minds when making this album. We were twenty again. If you look at the situation how the band was in present times, you felt that things have changed a lot. It is a lot more effort for everything, if you want to do something. You missed the easygoing way from the early beginning when you did not care of anything. You just made a spontaneous decision and then you just recorded it. That’s it. We definitely missed some of these days and that’s probably a reason why this album turned out this way. It is a state of mind. You have to accept that you are what you are. You cannot change the band as a whole. You are always – especially metal bands I think – deeply rooted and connected to your past and you cannot totally change a band. If you change the sound for 180°, then you probably should change name. There is always a responsibility to your own past and to your own band name, but the fans should somehow see the difference between an album that was actually written twenty years ago and an actual album. On the other hand they should be able to identify themselves with the band name. I think it is a kind of responsibility to keep your musical direction a little bit on a red line.
In that respect I think you are lucky that there are still so many members from the beginning. It is a bunch of friends, not really a band that easily changes members…
We know each other from many, many years before the band was founded. You have to deal with that, but we are used to it, being band member and friend at the same time. We had some line-up changes in the past, but not that much. Four of the members are still founding members. These days it is very special, because you see so many bands who kick out a member and they have to put all those statements full of lies on Facebook, you know. You think, hey they just tell bullshit. Why not be honest and tell the truth? Why did they split? It is something I do not like.
You have always been aware of the state of the planet and the lyrics are always interesting. Can you tell what inspired you this time when writing lyrics?
Not really. We want the people to think for themselves. Of course you can read between the lines and find a lot of our thoughts, but I am quite curious how the audience will interpret it. I sometimes miss the time when an album – or a movie – just came out and then people had no other opinion read before. You have the chance to have your own opinion. Too often people get too much information before something is released, so even without hearing a single note, they have already an opinion about it. That is something I do not really like and I know Fuchs does not like it at all. He wrote all the lyrics this time again and he told me before when we were scheduling the interviews, that he is really, really tired of speaking about his thoughts about why he came up with the lyrics. So I cannot answer this question, sorry.
Okay, I deeply respect that. I agree that people should think a bit independently when listening to lyrics…
I think that is something that the society and the world really needs these days, you know. Everybody comes to a point when asking himself: what can I do to change things? Because it is easy to point a finger and blame other people, put some bullshit on social media and so on. People are so rude these days. This is really difficult for me to accept. How much the whole communication and the whole respect between people has changed. Imagine ten years ago when nobody had a Smartphone in the pocket, it was a complete different society in my eyes. Of course on the other side, you have view into the minds of people and they post hundreds of comments on your Facebook. This is much more direct feedback from people than in the past, when you got twenty written letters or so. But it is like a flash of lightning and then it is gone.
Indeed, it is shallow, isn’t it? It does not make that much impact anymore, because you are bombarded with messages…
If you just think: what have you read on Facebook one week ago and what have you read one month ago? You are completely unable to tell a single thing, you know. It is an overload of information. It is also a big thing… I don’t know if you realized it, this is the longest album we have ever done. Fifty-five minutes: much more longer than the latest albums. Even the record company told us: do you think it is a good idea this time to release such a long album, because sometimes people are unable to concentrate themselves for five minutes? It is almost one hour of really intense music, so… but we do not want to do a shorter album, because someone is not able to concentrate. We are artists and we felt: all the songs are written in the same time and they are deeply connected to the Rote Reiter topic. We really thought during the mixing days in Hamburg about putting one or two songs off the record and got it saved for bonus tracks for other releases later, but we have never done that before. We have always written all we had in mind, recorded it and we put it on the album and it felt strange to sort some songs out because it is too long. Even if it would have been sixty-five minutes, I am not really sure if we would have made a decision about cutting it. It is important for us and even if you look back to that album in five or ten years, it is the tenth album ever we have done. It is an important milestone for the band itself, so it was a big wish for us to have it like it is. We made something special from the booklet and the layout. It is a nice thing you can spend your money on. You get a well designed product, truly a good item in your collection. We hope that people will appreciate that. I think these days you have to be very grateful that people say: okay, I buy a physical product. I don’t like digital releases, I like to have it in my hands. Then you get much more connected to the album itself. But maybe it is also a generation thing, you know. Maybe younger people think totally different.
In the past you always went to Principal Studios and Vincent was there to record. How come you changed your mind and how did you meet the other guys you worked with now?
Actually it was pretty much clear after the last album; that was the fourth time we recorded with Vincent. It was not the point that we were not satisfied with him, but I mean… musicians have to change things from time to time to get a different point of view and to get themselves happy. The unknown is always attractive. You want to discover the unknown, you want to meet other people and you want to get into other producer’s workflow. Actually I knew the producer team very well. We did not work together before, but I know Eike (Freese – Vera), he was playing in a band Dark Age, a band from Hamburg. In 1998 we played a show together in a little town in East Germany. So we had already the pleasure to share stages and Alexander Dietz is living just two villages away from my place. So it was like: why didn’t we meet earlier and make music together? It was a perfect thing. I always had the feeling that they wanted to give The Reiter a much more heavier sound than Vincent. I think Vincent is much more rooted into the medieval scene, like In Extremo and Totenhosen. His musical background is completely different. He is a great keyboard player and he comes from a totally different planet if you talk about music. Eike and Alex are completely metalheads and we share a lot of favourite bands. They are both passionate guitar players and they have a lot of knowledge about setting up amplifiers. Their skills are for instance trying things out with microphone positioning and using different cabinets. All that stuff you totally adore as a metalhead. So it was complete fun to record with them and they are also very nice persons. So I think the energy of both the guys and the band that melted together during the great months in January, February, March, when we recorded the main takes of the album, it was a good decision and I can definitely imagine working together with them on the next album. It was like a very gentle and comfortable situation to work with both.
And the Chameleon Studios have a rich history…
Oh yes, it is fantastic! As a German, you know all these classic singers, writers and artists that have recorded their stuff there in the seventies. It is one of the most famous studios in Germany. It has this very old analogue processing, the gear, the furniture and the smell inside… it is all old. You get this warm ambiance on every note you play, but on the other hand we mixed it up of course and you can combine it with new amplifiers for instance. We definitely want to sound like us. Every musician is always limited by the own skills. Not everybody in the world is born as a jazz guitar player, playing hundreds of notes in two seconds, you know. Sometimes I have the feeling that some producers want to press yourself in a complete different direction. They want you to play like a machine. That is absolutely 100% in tight, on a click-track and so on. Then you listen to the song and okay, somehow it sounds very perfect, but it does not sound like me. It is a long process for every band, to accept your limits and what you can do and what not and I am really happy that the workflow in the studio was really cool. Especially Alex who did all the guitars and bass and vocal stuff with us – he was engineer for that part – he was always sitting with closed eyes when we did the take. He told us he had to feel it if we did it in the right way and even if there is a take technically better, another take could give him more emotion. So I think this album has a very warm, natural and intense sound somehow, it has not been overdubbed. It is not triggered that much. It sounds heavy and modern, of course, we don’t want to sound like a seventies rock band. I want the most heavy stuff out of my gear, but on the other side it should be able to hear the musician working on the strings. Today some producers, they let you record for instance one chorus and then they copy it. No, we played every fucking note. Every take has to be played. It was totally forbidden to copy anything, but then in the end you can feel there is a progress in your own playing. The passion rises during the song and I believe that is something people can feel when listening to it.
What can you tell about the artwork? Who did it?
Our singer, Fuchs did it. He came up with the idea and he had already worked on it for the ‘Riders On The Storm’ album. It is a big woodcarving. Originally it is two meters, it is really huge. So it took him a lot of time to make it.
There have always been three things that struck me with Die Apokalyptischen Reiter: that you can combine melancholy, optimism and humour and on the other side maintain a kind of punk attitude…
Yeah definitely. Especially me and Fuchs, we like a lot of punk music. Especially when we were young; German punk stuff but also stuff like Discharge or Bad Religion. There has always been the punk feel. You have easy riffs, you have catchy, energetic drums without big blah blah blah. We even like some extreme grindcore, like Napalm Death. We always had those idols in the past. We came with Napalm Death or Slayer. We were not the band that had favourites like King Diamond or stuff like this. So we were complete out of this classic heavy metal scene, we are more crossover attitude guys, so it was always a great thing to put some very simple stuff on an album. Sometimes that songs work very well in a live situation. You can put all the energy in two or three minutes, just like an explosion. Some people are confused then and ask themselves if they can like it, but if you take an old Darkthrone song or even old Bathory… if you take away all the blackness and turn off the vocals and just look at the guitars and beat of the drums, it is punk. It has roots in punk. It is so deeply connected to punk and I don’t have a problem with that. It is definitely a part of the history of the band and I am proud of it. It is working class music. You have a silly job, you buy a cheap guitar and let your feelings out without education in music. Just this punk feeling DIY attitude. That is very obvious and very present all the time in the band. I think it is a kind of key-point to understand the band in a way. Often metal people think it is not so serious to have a punk riff, but I like all this old stuff like Biohazard and Cromags. I grew up with that stuff and I don’t want to separate all the scenes so much, because in the end all the stuff is guitar driven music in my opinion. It is not that artificial and not electronic. That kind of music always attracted me.
Are there plans for video clips?
We already did two video clips. The first one will be released next week, for the title track ‘Der Rote Reiter’ and then I think one week before the album comes out, there will be one for ‘Auf Und Nieder’, the third song on the album. As usual there is no song that stands for all the moods you have on the album. So we try to show two sides of the band. The title track is heavy with death metal influences and ‘Auf Und Nieder’ is more storytelling and with an easygoing sing-along chorus line. This is also an important part of the band history and its identity. It is not our intention to be more brutal than Cannibal Corpse. We have a lot of emotions to share. Nor only brutality and extremity, but also sadness and happiness, things to appear to you, which come across when you are a human being. That was always the biggest inspiration. I think both videos will do well. They are completely different in shooting style and approach.
To round off let’s have a look at the tour plans. I see you will be touring in Germany again, but can we hope for a tour in Belgium or the Netherlands as well?
Not a tour, but a few shows will hopefully be possible in 2018. The album will be out late Summer. With the first leg of the tour we just focus on the key markets, but we are working on a lot of shows in 2018. We are going to see what happens. Now we have to convince the people that we are back. Especially when you do experimental albums – like we did in the past – then everybody is a bit skeptical what the new direction will be. Now we have to wait and see how the impact of the new album in the scene will be, but I am pretty convinced that there are a lot of interests in the Netherlands, Belgium and France. I think we will try to set up some kind of a tour, so we can discover some of the countries or maybe go to festivals like Graspop to start with.