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Lunar Shadow

Na de EP ‘Triumphator’ is ‘Far From Light’ het eerste full-length album van het Duitse Lunar Shadow. Met hun prima heavy metal die bol staat van mooie gitaar harmonieën hebben ze op mij een erg goede indruk achtergelaten. Dat is ook meteen reden om bandleider, componist en gitarist Max 'Savage' Birbaum wat vragen voor te leggen, die hij overigens uitgebreid beantwoord.

Door: Pim B. | Archiveer onder death metal / grindcore

Assuming this will be the first time our readers hear of Lunar Shadow I’d be interested to hear a bit more about the formation of the band. If I’m informed well enough the foundation was laid in 2008 and you even recorded a song in 2011? So, tell us a bit more about the early days please.
That is correct. I formed the band already during my schooldays, but Lunar Shadow basically never really existed back then, I did not have a line-up or anything. I had just written several songs on my own. I recorded a demo song called ‘Heart For Battle’ in 2011 with the help of a friend of mine, who then four years later would produce and record our ‘Triumphator’ EP. I removed that song from YouTube some years ago, because it was an early attempt with which I wasn't content any longer. I wanted the fiery construct Lunar Shadow to start as a real band and not a one man-project.

At what moment would you say Lunar Shadows was a complete band? I think that took a bit of time right? You even recorded the material for the first EP ‘Triumphator’ before you had singer so I am told?
Finding the right line-up was indeed a complicated task, that took me years. I live in a very rural part of Germany, where a proper Heavy Metal scene is non-existent. Also I, right from the beginning, had certain views, that none of the people here shared, I wanted my band members to be dedicated to this music, to the old thunder of Manowar, the tearing riffs of Judas Priest, the hymns of Bathory and the evil wizardry of Dissection. I wanted my band members to shed their blood for this cause, to send a statement to this frail scene where I come from: "This is how it's done properly, suckers!" Real Heavy Metal. The real power that this music is.

I then met Sven, our bass player at Keep It True festival, and we instantly got along well. We liked the same bands and had the same attitude and feeling of antipathy for the local Hardcore-, Metalcore- and Symphonic-Lala-Whatever bands. We decided to team up. Through Sven I met his twin-brother Kay, who became our second guitarist. We first started rehearsing with a different drummer, who was part of the cult in the earliest days, but we decided to part due to different opinions on the musical style. Another friend of the Hamacher-twins was Jörn Zehner, who then became our drummer. I instantly felt a certain energy, when we played. Harmony, things felt right. We got along fine personally and were almost ready.

Let's put it how it is: every traditional Heavy Metal band stands or falls with its singer. Maybe the hardest piece to find in every band of that genre. We first tested a singer that Kay knew from university. He was awesome technically, but it didn't work out on a personal level. After several rehearsals and one recording sessions I knew we'd need someone else. Then our producer Kai Stähler, an old friend of mine since our mutual schooldays, with whom we recorded "Triumphator" recommended Alex Vornam to us. Kai had already recorded him earlier with his old band Sawblade. We invited him and right from the beginning I knew, that he would be the one. He fit in perfectly into our gang, I instantly liked his 70s Sabbath influenced style and his almost Dio-esque vocals. I think, one of the first songs we played together was ‘Rainbow In the Dark’. At this point, when we started to rehearse the songs of our EP, at this point life was given and Lunar Shadow started to be.

Having mentioned the ‘Triumphator’ EP I was wondering how you look back on that recording? Some songs were already written in 2013. Most of it was recorded in 2014. You released the EP by yourselves in 2015 and later on it was reissued by Stormspell. You were voted demo of the month in Rock Hard magazine. I guess there’s quite a bit to tell about this release.
Compared to the recording of our album you could call the recordings of the EP a bit chaotic. Maybe even naive, we had never recorded properly before, at least I hadn't, but that's what makes this EP good in some way. I still love this EP, it has a good sound, it's raw and direct and I wouldn't want to change one second about it. It has this certain charm of young people ready to set this world on fire. We recorded it directly into our rehearsal room, only the drums were done separately by another guy and our drummer. We were always in a hurry. Our drummer basically only had time to record one track of each song and then it had to work. I sat down and improvised all solos on this record. It was a lot of fun, very spontaneous and creative. We drank many beers at that time back then, ha! Good memories.

I wanted to release this EP on ourselves, to have full control and fight for our reputation in the scene. I knew that our music was good and trusted in that fact only basically. No label was involved, no promotion agency or something. The resonance then was awesome, very positive. We got good reviews, were able to play our first show at Harder Than Steel Festival along with bands like Jag Panzer, Metal Inquisitor or Jex Thoth. Later we were announced "Demo of the Month" in German Rock Hard magazine and I am still proud of that, and it got us a lot of attention too. Soon the first press of the EP was sold out and Stormspell contacted us and did a second press, with a slightly different layout.

Is the ‘Triumphator’ EP actually still available? How many copies have been pressed in total?
We did 500 pieces of the first press with the red logo on our own, they are completely sold out. Then Stormspell did another edition of 500 CDs. We have some left of them, I'll update our webshop soon or you can just write us. Otherwise check Stormspell, Danny surely has some copies left too.

Now your debut ‘Far From Light’ has been released through Cruz Del Sur. How did you get in touch with them and were there any other labels interested in signing you guys?
Enrico and myself had been in a loose contact after the release of the EP. He liked it but said, that he'd like to wait for our first full-length album and check it out then. During the recordings I sent him a pre-production demo of ‘Hadrian Carrying Stones’ and afterwards we had a long talk at "Harder Than Steel" Festival last year, though this wasn't actually "business talk", we were just chatting in private about music. When he asked me some weeks later, if Lunar Shadow would like to join Cruz Del Sur I instantly said yes. I don't know of any other labels were interested in releasing our album. I can say, that we were never contacted by other labels and after it was clear that Cruz Del Sur would like to release our album it was irrelevant to send around promos of some sort, I wanted to sign with Cruz Del Sur.

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If you look at the song’s titles you could assume that writers like Robert E. Howard or Clark Ashton Smith might be an influence. Can you tell us some more about the lyrics and what inspires you? Added to that it seems the band name comes from one of the ships in Star Wars. Perhaps you can tell a bit about that too?
That is correct, I am a huge fan of these pulp-writers of the 1920s and 30s. ‘Cimmeria’ was of course inspired by the Conan-tales of Robert E. Howard, ‘Frozen Goddess’ is a reminiscence to his short story ‘The Frost Giant's Daughter’. I just like their fire. Rough lands, sorcery, beautiful women and clashing swords. I tried to catch that atmosphere. All songs on ‘Far From Light’ circle around the topic of death, each in a slightly different way. The Christian methodology in ‘The Hour Of Dying’ was deeply inspired by Trouble`s ‘The Skull’, while ‘The Kraken’ is a twisted piece of Alfred Lord Tennyson's poetry. ‘Gone Astray’ is certainly the most personal song on this record, a song about loneliness and loss, while ‘They That Walk The Night’ basically is just about a horde of monsters attacking a small village somewhere in the woods, there isn't a certain deep concept behind all my songs. Only its overall message is equal to the other songs. Mors omnia vincit. Death conquers all. Lunar Shadow is indeed the name of a spaceship in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2. I'm an aesthetic person when it comes to words and those two together just did something with me. Also I love Star Wars, not to forget that. It's also a small reference to the ‘Lunar Strain’ album of old(!) In Flames, that band has always played an important role in my life.

On a side note I think I read somewhere you have written a couple of books yourself too? Care to share something about that as well?
I have written and published three books, yes. The first one at quite a young age, when I was 21. The first two were classic fantasy books in the vein of my idols Tolkien, Howard or Smith. They are nothing spectacular I guess, also rather naive at some points, considering my age when I wrote them. It was just a tribute to some of my favourite authors and me trying to step into their footprints. The third one was a rather hard and provocative piece of prose, criticising society, religion and life itself, some sort of a Houellebecq-rip off. But I do not write prose anymore, only some poems from time to time.

When it comes to the music I would say there are a lot of influences from all over the place. There’s a strong emphasis on guitar harmonies. So classic metal like Maiden and Priest comes to mind. Melodic Gothenburg stuff as well and also more epic material like Atlantean Kodex or Manowar. Could you shed a light on your musical inspiration and what your aim is with Lunar Shadow from a musical perspective?
I always find it hard to compare my band to other acts. I know it is somehow necessary, for how shall you describe your music to others then? It's important to make clear, that I do not enter the studio with an attempt to sound like a certain band, I never say "Okay, I want this part to sound more like Atlantean Kodex". And a musician should never think like that, by the way, or you will fail.
I can say, that those twin-guitars are certainly some kind of a trademark in our band. I always loved these harmonies and my love for them actually comes from bands like the old In Flames, At The Gates, Dissection, Gates of Ishtar or Unanimated and not Maiden, as one could think. Speaking about music theory, early 90s Gothenburg-music basically was down-tuned Iron Maiden with more extreme vocals. Nevertheless, there is a certain variety on ‘Far From Light’. There are ballads, blastbeats, Black Metal riffs, that sound very dark and eerie and warm acoustic pieces. I do not like to limit myself, in any way. Whatever I want to do, I do. I do not care if others may like it or if others may dislike it. I also do not say that I almost compulsively want to mix as many genres as possible. I just play and write the sort of Heavy Metal, that I as a person like, that I would like to hear from other bands. That's the reason you start a band, isn't it? (Damn right! – PB)

Can you also tell a bit more about the recording process of ‘Far From Light’? Did it differ a lot from the recording of ‘Triumphator’ where you recorded most parts in your rehearsal room?
It certainly did differ a lot. When we recorded the EP in our rehearsal room, we were basically always in a hurry, had to take recordings I maybe wasn't fully satisfied with, we didn't have the time to work on details. With the album it was completely different, we worked out all the small details, vocal harmonies, overdubs, bass lines, small drum fills. We often worked up to 12 hours per day and sometimes then things just don't work anymore. Your fingers start to twist while playing the guitar, the voice of the singer is failing. Then you have to stop, drive home or just take a break, have dinner and attack again. Our producer S. Of Sulphur Aeon was a huge help here too, he is a very calm and relaxed human being, which also influenced the band members. I think that you can hear the difference to the EP on this album and that it is a huge step forward.

Will you guys bring out Lunar Shadow on the road? In other words are there any plans to tour?
No. Lunar Shadow is not a touring band. I don't want to tour and we will continue to just play few, selected shows.

I think that is all from my side. Anything else you might want to add?
Death To Life!

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