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Goat Of Mendes

Het Duitse Goat Of Mendes is één van de veteranen van de Viking metal scene. De band bestaat al sinds 1994, en het debuut ‘Hymn To One Ablaze’ is al meer dan twee decennia oud. Alhoewel ik niet alle albums even sterk vind heb ik de pagan/folk metal – of Wiccan metal zoals ze het zelf noemen – wel kunnen waarderen. Eind oktober vorig jaar kwam de band – na bijna zeven jaar – met de zesde langspeler, ‘Hagzussa – Riding The Fence’, met één van haar sterkste en ongetwijfeld haar meest gebalanceerd werk; een album waarop black, death, thrash, folk en traditionele heavy metal samenkomen tot één atmosferische, maar vooral pakkende luisterervaring. Hopelijk krijgt de band nu eindelijk de erkenning die zij verdient. Ondergetekende sprak met vocalist, frontman en origineel bandlid Heiner “Surtur” Frank over de band’s lange carrière en uiteraard de nieuwe plaat.

Door: Nima | Archiveer onder pagan / folk metal

Hails. Let’s go back in time a little bit and take a look at your career. Your history dates back to 1994 and in 1996 you released your self-titled demo and your debut album, ‘Hymn To One Ablaze’. How do you look back on your long career so far?
Hi Nima, first of all thanks for the interview, much appreciated! Well, the fact that there aren't that many Metalheads that actually know Goat Of Mendes after more than twenty years of existence says something about our career, haha. Actually, we're quite fine with being very much an underground band still. Our main goal from the very beginning wasn't making lots of bucks or earning a headliner spot on Wacken – we founded the band to express ourselves by playing the kind of music and writing the lyrics we'd also enjoy, if being played by someone else. Looking back we have always succeeded on that point. I'm still proud of all of our releases so far. And the main argument is and always was the fun of playing great music and releasing it as a company of close friends.

As far as success goes, we're next to unknown in our home-country Germany, but are proud of having a very solid fan base in countries abroad. We receive a huge amount of positive feedback especially from the USA, South-America and Ireland – and not only from “normal” fans, but from fellow musicians as well. One of my personal highlights dates back to 2001, after we released ‘Thricefold’. It was the first release for which we had a distribution contact overseas. Well, I left my (former) postal address in the booklet for contacts, as the Internet was not that much established back then as it is nowadays. One day I found a handwritten letter in my postal box, sent by Mr. Robert Garven from California – the drummer of one of my (then disbanded) all-time favourites Cirith Ungol congratulated me personally for ‘Thricefold’, being “a record that keeps the banner of Cirith Ungol still flying high”! I can tell you, it took me several days to wipe that dumbfounded, but very happy, grin from my face... Moments like this are the very reason for fighting on. Plus, we are all good friends, not just band members, we haven't run out of musical and lyrical ideas yet and we still enjoy all the fun of it.

Back then your music was a combination of heavy, folk and mainly black metal. What can you tell us about the visions you had for the band and what you wanted to achieve with Goat Of Mendes at the time?
In the very beginning Goat Of Mendes was nothing more than a side-project from Marco's (Pfeifer aka Marcochias, guitars – Nima) former band Obnoxious. Being a death metal act, they repeatedly rejected Marco’s ideas for riffs, melodies, whatever, that were “out of the box” for a typical death metal band. Of course this frustrated him a lot and he told me that one evening as we were hanging out at his place with some beers. So I proposed that we form a side-project in which he could play exactly the music he intended to. I also volunteered to write the lyrics, as his knowledge of the English language wasn’t that great back then. Well, all of this led to the recording of ‘Hymn To One Ablaze’. Marco did all the composition work, played guitars and did the major part of the vocals, but I suddenly found myself doing some vocal lines and spoken word parts as well. We were quite surprised when we were offered a record deal with Invasion Records almost immediately, and the album sold pretty well. So we decided to make a real band out of it, searched for permanent musicians and I claimed the position as front man from then on. By the way, the first “demo” you mentioned earlier on was never intended as such – in fact it was just a pretty shitty recording of new songs we did in our rehearsal room in between the releases of ‘Hymn To One Ablaze’ and the second album. We made about twenty copies on cassette and handed it to some buddies to show them what to expect from us in the very near future, just for the fun of it. I drew a cover and photocopied it for each cassette. It's quite funny that this is now mentioned as a “demo” on several collectors’ pages on the Internet – even I myself don’t have a copy of this tape anymore, haha!

With every album the black metal influences were slightly decreased and the folk/pagan and melodic influences took the overhand in general. What can you tell us about the musical development at the time and albums such as ‘Thricefold’ and especially ‘A Book Of Shadows?
Well, the influences of bands like early Skyclad or Sabbat (UK) was eminent from the very beginning, regarding both musical and lyrical influences. Marco and I were and still are very much influenced by these bands, but also a lot of acts from the 90s black metal uprising had an impact on us. So it's quite logical that these influences somehow reflected in our own music. As I mentioned, Marco was responsible for all the compositions on the debut. As he was mainly interested in extreme metal such as black, death and melodic death metal, the result was also a more extreme album. The more atmospheric parts of the album were based on my own ideas, which came up during the process of writing the lyrics.

After we became a “real” band after the debut, a lot of different musical tastes and styles were added into the band with the recruitment of permanent members. Larz, our second guitarist until ‘A Book Of Shadows’, our former drummers Ralle and Evgenyi and of course myself now contributed in the process of writing new songs as well and our own musical influences of course somehow reflected in the new material. We were also eager to clarify the real background of Goat Of Mendes, as we never saw us as a black metal band, even thoug we were sold as one by our record company at the very beginning out of commercial reasons. The Pagan/Wiccan element played a role from the very beginning and we wanted to set ourselves apart from the core black metal-scene, which became more and more ridiculous and questionable at the time. Especially Larz and myself enjoyed classic, early 80s heavy metal very much, so these influences were added to the basic Goat Of Mendes-sound along with the folk influences from bands like Skyclad or Cruachan that we all enjoyed. In my opinion, with our intermediary demo ‘Paganborn’ (1998) and the following third album ‘Thricefold’ we finally found our typical trademark sound, somewhere in between black, thrash, classic heavy metal and Folk.

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I loved your first records and I must honestly admit that I wasn’t very happy with the turn you took on ‘A Book Of Shadows’, not that this was a bad album, but I missed the magic the band had over itself in the beginning. Fortunately on ‘Consort of the Dying’ again brought back the magic and the energy of the “classic” Goat of Mendes and the music again showed an extremer approach. Was this something that was done intentionally or was there something else at work on that album?
I still like ‘A Book Of Shadows’ very much, but I must admit that I somehow can understand why you are a bit dissatisfied with it. First of all, the album suffers from a bad production, especially when you compare it to its predecessor ‘Thricefold’. This is especially eminent on the faster and more aggressive songs like ‘The Sabbatic Goat’ or ‘Discordia’ and robs a lot of their impact. But I must also admit that we sometimes wanted a bit too much and looking back, some of the songs could have been shorter and would be more intense and “on the spot”, without some unnecessary twists, turns and breaks we integrated in them. If I could rewrite ‘Guardian Spirit’ for example, I would concentrate mainly on the doomy parts and reduce the death metal-like outbursts a little – or get rid of them altogether. Still, I concern songs like ‘The Shaman’ or ‘...And Inanna Stood Unveiled’ as some of the best songs we have ever composed.

During the production of ‘A Book Of Shadows’ tensions within the band also reached a boiling point. Larz wanted to steer into more progressive, modern waters, whereas I wanted to concentrate more on good, catchy riffing and refrains and an overall darker atmosphere. In addition, Ralle suffered from more and more personal problems, so we had a breaking point shortly after the release of the album. Larz and Ralle, and later also bass player Frank, left the band and it took us some time to find adequate replacements. After we finally found those in Seeb, Nik and Sandra, two or three years had already passed. We knew that we needed to more or less start anew, so we decided to record an elaborate concept album, based on a story Maia and I developed during the long break. The basic story of ‘Consort Of The Dying God’ is very dark and moody and I already had in mind how each of the tracks should sound to transport the lyrics respectively. Atmosphere was the main goal we wanted to achieve and we also wanted to bring back the spoken words parts, which were so iconic on our debut. The influence of our new members also played a major role. Especially Seeb is a very different guitarist when compared to Larz – he's much more into old-school metal than Larz was, so we had a quite nice contrast to Marco’s style, which is much more based in extreme metal guitar playing.

Last but not least, the production on ‘Consort...’ is superb. Andi (Andreas Herr – Nima) from Heyday Studio understood our intentions very well and did a great job to produce a sound that is transparent, dark and atmospheric without being too clean and modern. I'm quite happy that you like ‘Consort…’; due to its length and the interludes, which are relevant for the overall concept, it's probably our most controversial album. A lot of people like it, but there are also those who find it too complex and not straightforward enough.

That brings us to the new album, ‘Hagzussa – Riding The Fence’, that was released about three months ago, almost seven years after ‘Consort…’. What took you so long to come with a new album?
Once again this was due to interpersonal problems. Our former drummer Nik wasn't able to cope with the goals we wanted to achieve with the band. He concentrated too much on irrelevant engagements in his private life and rehearsed too little, and thus slowed down the songwriting process enormously. After an abysmal live performance during a mini-tour with our buddies from Waylander, we finally decided to fire him. Looking back, we should have done so much earlier. Additionally we lost our contract with Source Of Deluge and had no immediate financial funds to record a new album. During this time the band came very close to the point of splitting up, as frustration grew and thus motivation and inspiration decreased at an alarming rate. All of this changed after we found Daniel (Müller – Nima) to replace Nik on the drums. He has been a fan of Goat Of Mendes since our second album and his enthusiasm and skills simply blew us away. Suddenly all frustration was gone and we were all eager to record a new album, against all odds. Within just one year after Daniel and Sasch (Sascha Siever, bass – Nima) joined the band we were ready to record ‘Hagzussa’, and in the meantime, we had found a new label in Witches Brew as well.

Musically you have picked up where ‘Consorts…’ left off and you have again taken a more aggressive approach, without losing sight of melody and diversity. As a matter of fact – and something I mentioned in my review also – is that ‘Hagzussa’ is your most versatile and best balanced work to date. We have elements of traditional heavy metal, black, death, thrash and folk metal going hand in hand here, which makes the listening experience exciting and forces you to pay attention. In how far can you agree and what “blueprint” did you have in mind for this when you started working on it?
Thanks a lot – we see it likewise ourselves and are more than satisfied with the outcome. The only blueprint we had in mind was that we wanted to come back to the roots a little, to concentrate on the basics of a good song without too much frippery and we also wanted to stick a huge middle finger in the face of every so-called “Metal expert” that mocked us in the past for whatever reasons. Due to the fact that we couldn't afford an elaborate a studio production like on ‘Consort...’ or ‘Thricefold’, we wanted to make it the “raw way” altogether and concentrate on the pure metal essence. Therefore we also discarded any usage of “guest” instruments, such as the violin which had been used on the three predecessors, and female vocals. We just wanted the riffs, the drums and the voice do the talking.

Something I lobe about the album is the fact that it is very riff-oriented! The riffs play the main roll here and you have some of the best riffs you’ve ever made on this record. That is something I miss in a lot of the modern garbage that people sell as metal nowadays…
That's right, and I personally agree that a good and catchy riff is the very essence of a great metal song. It's not at all relevant how easy or difficult it is to play that riff; it must just catch you by the balls, squeeze and never let go. In the early days of the band, I was probably the only one in the band to appreciate the old-school riff-magic of the likes of Tony Iommi, the Young brother, Downing/Tipton or Oliver/Quinn because – as a non-instrumentalist – I never gave a shit about the technical aspect. When Seeb joined the band, we suddenly had a classic 80s guitar wizard – and it shouldn’t surprise you that most of the great old-school riffs on ‘Hagzussa’ come from him – and also Marco at last recognized and understood the irresistible magic of the old masters. Together, both of them are a dream-team when it comes to composing new stuff – it couldn't be better. Additionally I am intervening more and more in the composing process and contribute my own ideas. In the past, the songs were exclusively written by Marco and/or Larz and I “just” developed the vocal lines and wrote the lyrics. Songs like ‘Samhain’ or especially ‘Mabon’ probably wouldn't have been possible in the earlier days.

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Something different: you describe your music as Wiccan Metal and obviously this belief plays an important role for the band. Please explain a bit more about this matter and also how it affects both your music and your lyrics.
My main inspiration to become a Pagan goes way back to my father, who passed away far too early in 1988. He was a Pagan and practiced as a traditional healer, but kept the former as a secret until his death. In his days you were in danger to face serious consequences – both financially and socially – if you openly denied the established religions. We found out the real truth about him after we sorted out his belongings after his departure. Instead he claimed to be an Atheist and struggled hard to “educate” my mother, who was a strong believer in the Catholic Church back them. He finally succeeded, by the way. It would have frightened her seriously if she had known the truth in those days, as Paganism was closely connected to Satanism, witchcraft and black magic in the eyes of the public. But, even without openly revealing his Pagan beliefs, my father succeeded to implant his views on live, nature and spirituality in myself and my two siblings. We were able to question the concept of the Christian God without being punished and were able to discover our own view on things spiritual and religious.

I owe my father a lot for that and I am eternally thankful that he opened my eyes for the beauty of nature and the strength of my own will. So when Marco and I founded Goat Of Mendes in 1994, it was very clear from the beginning that my belief – or rather my philosophy – would also be the main inspiration for the band's concept and lyrics. Apart from my personal sources of influence, the music and lyrics of Martin Walkyier (ex-Sabbat (UK), ex-Skyclad) were a major inspiration for me. I'd dare to say that without these two bands, Goat Of Mendes would not be the band that it is today. Regarding musicians, the lyrics of Dani Filth )Cradle Of Filth), Rozz Williams (ex-Christian Death, Shadow Project), Aaron Stainthorpe (My Dying Bride) and John Arch (ex-Fates Warning) also played a certain influential role, but to a much smaller extent.

What is the status of the availability of your previous records. You offer your old albums digitally via Bandcamp, but there are of course old-school bastards like myself who prefer physical over digital any day! And what about other merchandise, because to be honest I didn’t find that much online…
We are old bastards too, who also prefer a physical copy any day. So we established a shop section on Bandcamp and on our homepage, where you can purchase our new and old stuff on CD, along with shirts and patches. Our releases are quite hard to find, because we never had a huge company to distribute them. The first two releases are more or less sold-out, so we don't openly advertise them in our shop. But for those interested, we still have a few copies of each album left, so everybody feel free drop an e-mail if you want to purchase them for your collection.

You are not very active on the live front, and as far as I could see you only have one gig planned as of yet, the Frostbier Festival on March 24 in Wuppertal, Germany. Is there a particular reason for the limited live activities?
The main reason is the fact that we all have families, a regular job and very limited finances. Goat Of Mendes is our common hobby, but sadly we have to rely on more boring occupations to earn a living. So sometimes it's quite hard to find a date where everyone in the band is available. Additionally, Marco lives in Munich, which is always an 8-hour drive to have rehearsals with the rest of the band.
We nevertheless try to apply for much more live-activity recently, and I think the Frostbier Festival won't be our only gig this year.

As mentioned before your history dates back to 1994. The scene has of course changed a lot over the years and of course with age itself we also change as people. What are the main differences for you and the way you approached Goat Of Mendes now compared to back when you started out?
In the very early days we were quite enthusiastic and also a bit naïve. As many newcomers we shared the hope to make it to a certain status somehow and live the dream of earning our living by playing the music we love. Maybe it was because of this that we agreed to be labeled and sold as a black metal act in the early days, including silly make-up and all the other nonsense. This very much backfired on us and we deserved it. Whatever. We soon realized that the golden times were over and that it is very unlikely – or at least dependent on a very lucky moment – to have major success in such a vast and overcrowded business as the metal scene of today. This is especially true when the music you play is somewhat out of the box and not at all commercially compatible. So we just concentrated on the very fun aspect of it, as we never wanted to make any compromises – neither musically nor conceptually. This attitude grew even more the longer the band existed. We now have reached a point where we don't give a fuck about what others say or criticize; we concentrate on playing the music we all like and enjoy, and if anyone in the scene enjoys it as well it's of course much appreciated.

And finally, what can we expect from Goat Of Mendes next now that you’re back on the front? I hope we don’t have to wait another six plus years for new music?
I don't think so. With the addition of Daniel and Sash the atmosphere within the band is fantastic and the overall spirit is almost as enthusiastically as it was in the early days. The overall reactions on the new album are very positive as well and we already have a lot of ideas to convert into new songs in the very near future. The only aspect that can cause a delay is the financial one. No label is interested in us and we are all very much aware of it that we'll probably stay in the underground forever. So we likely have to rely on our own very limited funds to produce a successor for ‘Hagzussa’, but we'll surely find some way to make it.

Well then, I guess we can call it a day for now. Unless of course there is something left that you’d like to mention…
Once again, thanks a lot for the chance to introduce ourselves to some metalheads who probably have never heard of our humble band. Visit us on our Facebook page and on Bandcamp – and come catch us live and have a beer with us! Blessed Be!

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