Human Fortress interview (12/2013)
|With:||Torsten Wolf, Dirk Liehm|
|Conducted by:||D.T. Metal (skype)|
After years of inactivity, Human Fortress took another stab at fame and fortune and recently released their fourth studio album titled Raided Land. We had the chance to chat with guitarist Torsten and keyboardist Dirk about the new members in the bands as well as the new album.
Birgit: You never gave up on Human Fortress and now, five years after the last album and a couple line-up changes later, you guys are back. What was the driving force to continue?
Torsten: First off, we all kept in contact over the years. In late 2008 we met with our old vocalist Jioti as well with our old drummer Laki but not necessarily to reform Human Fortress; we just sat down and talked. Even though most of us were also involved in other bands at this time, we recognized that the band still meant a lot to us. At the end of the day we came to the conclusion to try to keep Human Fortress alive and the first thing we did was to re-activate our prior guitarist Volker. Through Ingmar, our former roadie/bassist, we found our current keyboardist Dirk and right before we began production on the new album, our bassist Andre joined the team.
B: Dirk, did the guys know you personally?
Dirk: No, they didn't know me at all. They just knew that Ingmar knew me and apparently he told Torsten and Volker: "hey, I know that guy and maybe we can try him out". I figured why not, and we met in the rehearsal studio. Beforehand I did listen to Defenders Of The Crown and I liked what I heard. Well, in the rehearsal room we started slowly and on Defenders Of The Crown there was an instrumental track, "Colloseum", which was the intro to "Gladiator Of Rome", so it was very epic and Roman sounding, and I made my own interpretation of the song. They liked it a lot but still were a bit skeptical.
But then we worked on Raided Land and I wrote the intro to "Raided Land" and right afterwards "Dark Knight", which was actually the first song I wrote for Human Fortress, and after that it was clear that I would be part of the band.
B: Did you play in a band prior to joining Human Fortress?
Dirk: No, this is my first band. Before I did some solo stuff but more as a hobby. Well, I did do some classical composing but more leaning toward film music.
Torsten: And this actually fit us since we do have many epic songs where we need a keyboardist and the keyboard is a very important instrument for us, since the depth you can produce with keys a guitar can't duplicate. This was very important for us and the combination of guitars plus keys does make our sound in my opinion.
B: True. Now you also have a new vocalist in Gus; who is from Brazil out of all places. How did you manage to get him on board?
(their prior vocalist Jioti who had, and still has to some point, issues with his vocal cords left the band before they started working on new material)
Torsten: We first looked in our region for a new vocalist and since we did have an awesome one with Jioti we wanted someone who was at least his caliber or even better. Of course this was no easy task in part since you just don't find a vocalist with those qualities that easy and we are not superstars and could just woo away one from another band. That's why we started to look worldwide.
Dirk: And we didn't want to pay someone to just sing; hired help so to say.
Torsten: Yes, we didn't want a paid vocalist, we wanted someone who was in the band so that if we do concerts, he would be with us and we wouldn't have to pay a couple thousand more just for him to play some gigs.
Dirk: Being a full part of the band was a condition we set.
Torsten: We reconnected with an old friend, Andrew McNeice out of Tasmania who is the owner of MelodicRock.com, since he was always a supporter of Human Fortress. He posted on his site that we were looking for a vocalist and a friend of Gus saw it and let him know. He did know our band name but not all of the material. After listening on YouTube to some of our songs, he liked what he heard and since he wanted to do something like that in Brazil but never found the opportunity it was like we both looked and found each other.
We did listen to some of his stuff, mainly his contributions to Adagio, and I thought he would be a good fit. We did send him some of our material to check how he would sound and also if he would have some creative ideas for the songs. What he did send back sounded really good, in particular "Restless Souls" where the refrain was his idea and it ended up on the album btw. The second song he sent back, "Child Of War" sounded bombastic and we knew that he was the right man for the job.
B: Was the material for Raided Land already written before he joined? And if not, did he give his input on the lyrics and maybe changed some around to fit his style?
Torsten: Yes, the entire album was done before he joined. But we did change some minor things like a word here or there to make them sound better without changing their meaning.
B: As you already mentioned, Dirk was there from the beginning of Raided Land, but what about your new bassist Andre - how involved was he with the songwriting, if at all?
Dirk: I met Andre when we did the video clip. (ed. for "Wasted Years") Well, our old bassist left for personal reasons and we did have a replacement, but his child got sick and he was unable to record the album with us because of it. And someone suggested Andre.
Torsten: Yes, through Christoph Speidel, who is a friend of mine and also runs a really good record shop, Hot Shot Records; he knows the scene here in Hannover and he suggested Andre to us. We got a hold of him and … well, I have to say that Andre also plays in Rough Silk which is another big metal band out of Hannover, they are heavier and not as melodic as Human Fortress though.
Dirk: Yes, and of course we were also in a rush with the album. And we were so fortunate that Andre is an awesome guy as well, easy to get along with. It's great working with him; Torsten and Volker met him before I did, and we gave him the material to "Wasted Years" for the video shoot and had a great time. Afterwards he sat at home and after I gave him the material for Raided Land he did write some very creative bass lines to augment what I had wrote already.
Torsten: In regards to his bass lines he did have some freedom, but not with the compositions; they were done.
B: The new album goes somewhat back to your roots but also leans more toward the progressive and hard rock side of metal. How did you approach the writing, in particular since long time songwriter and keyboardist Dirk Marquardt had left the band?
Torsten: I had to rethink everything since before it was I, Dirk and Jioti who were the main songwriters in the band. Of course I did write a lot of songs on Raided Land and had an advantage since Jioti and I did work on vocal passages before, and I knew his style. This was important since we wanted Jioti as a vocalist again so that people would recognize us right away. But, it's always hard because when a singer leaves a band this will also change the sound of a band. I do believe since we adapted this style of singing and concentrated more on the sound of our debut album we captured not only the attention of new listeners, but also gained some old fans back. I would say that Raided Land has musically something from Lord Of Earth And Heavens Heir, Defenders Of The Crown and also some new elements and the fans are happy with the end result.
(Since both haven't even mentioned the band's latest album Eternal Empire I thought it was about time to finally bring it up and both gracefully avoided the mention of it. )
B: So you felt you had to "re-prove" yourself to your fans after the rather different sounding Eternal Empire? And would you consider Raided Land your comeback album?
Torsten: Yes, you can call it a comeback album especially after a five year hiatus. And it was very important to us that if we would do another album it had to be done right. We would need a very good singer, we would need very good songs, so we could tie on the older albums or even be better, since otherwise who would need a comeback album from us.
Dirk: In regards to your songwriting question; I also wrote a lot of the songs with Torsten, sometimes a song a day. For instance, the closing track "Guard The Blind" we wrote in just one day. We had a really good time. I was really thrilled by the Defenders Of The Crown album and I had a lot of ideas about the topic; like in the chorus from "Pray For Salvation". Torsten on the other hand wrote songs such as "Gladiator Of Rome Part II", which he did all by himself and everything I did alone you hear because of the way the keys sound.
Torsten: Yes, with the epic parts I needed someone like Dirk who could implement the keys to make a song sound epic. The chemistry between us just works and we both are very creative people and I believe you can hear this in the album.
Dirk: But this of course doesn't mean we don't disagree sometimes since this is important also and the end product is better that way.
Torsten: It would be like going into a rehearsal room with five AC/DC fans; you would know exactly how an album would sound like. It's different with us since we all listen to different music and throw all our ideas out there.
B: What is your favorite song on the new album?
Torsten: That's a hard question; kind of like asking a mother which one of her children she likes best. But to be honest, it changes what song I like better on the album. I like all of them, maybe the heavy ones more, but I also like the epic ones. Well, maybe "Child Of War", not because I also wrote it, and I like to listen to "Restless Souls" also.
Dirk: At the beginning mine was "Dark Knight", of course since it was mine , but after the recording I have to say, now it's "The Chosen One".
B: What type of genre tag would you give Human Fortress anno 2013?
Dirk: Epic melodic metal.
Torsten: I concur. One of our old producers always said: German melodic battle metal.
B: And speaking of production, Sebb from Orden Ogan mixed and mastered the new album - how did you choose him?
Torsten: This contact came through Timo Hoffmann, our A&R rep at AFM Records. We thought about who could mix the album since we believed it would be better for an outsider to do this; one with a set of fresh ears since we worked so long on the album that we couldn't be objective anymore.
Dirk: Yes, you get that tunnel vision and you hear things that might not be there at all. You really get crazy since you have heard the same stuff a million times and think that this might not work or that might work better. No, it's better to bring someone external to the band; yes it also costs more to do so, but I believe the outcome proves we did the right thing with going to Sebb. He made an awesome sounding album, hands down.
Torsten: It's amazing what he still pulled out of our sound. All of the guitars were re-amped in his studio; they were put through the amps of Orden Ogan and that's why they have that fat guitar sound. While our sound wasn't bad at all, his version is even more sharper.
Dirk: We thought it was rich to begin with, but Sebb thought our sound was a bit flat and … well, we did send him some clear guitar samples before distortion and he used his amplifiers, and the result was just … WOW.
B: I noticed the bass guitar is very high in the mix throughout the entire album and I really dig it.
Dirk: Me as well. It's often that, especially with power metal, the bass is inaudible.
Torsten: That is Sebb's style. He said that a lot of bands have the vocals and the guitars high up front and then the sound lacks in the back. He does mix different than our prior producer and right away brought the guitars, the drums and the bass up front; he mixed it that the sound is in your face from the start.
Dirk: The first song with Sebb was "Child Of War" and the part in the middle … well, after his mix I heard the difference clear as day. The bass was so crisp and crunchy and with the guitars and drums added it was awesome.
B: How long did it take to record the album before you guys were ready for Sebb?
Dirk: We actually recorded everything in my basement except the vocals since I don't have the hardware or expertise for them.
Torsten: We all have some sort of recording room at home and everybody can record their parts easily and we all use the same software so it's easy to put it all together as well. This way we also have the advantage to just send stuff to each other without meeting somewhere.
Dirk: It was all home recorded and luckily these days you can do this; twenty years ago - no way.
B: That's true. Now real quick about your deal with AFM Records; somehow Mat Sinner (Sinner, Primal Fear) was instrumental in landing this. Tell us more about it.
Torsten: I met Mat a while ago through Michael Bormann and he really knows many people in the business. Not only people at the labels, but he also knows his way around contracts. Since we just regained the rights to our old records we just wanted a label for rerelease purposes. Mat said that AFM Records has done this before and this was the start to get in contact with them in the first place. They were immediately interested and then I also brought up that we were about to record a new record and what the chances would be for AFM Records to release it.
Dirk: Sort of … just in case, I haven't mentioned it yet.
Torsten: They told me to send material over and this really doesn't happen that often these days that a record label will even entertain the idea with just a few demos sent their way; usually they want the complete product. Anyway, we were lucky that they liked it and made us an offer right away.
B: To wrap things up; what's next for Human Fortress?
Dirk: Up until Christmas we will deal with media matters and then - well, just today we were playing around with new songs already. Honestly, we need to catch up because of the hiatus and that's why we started with new stuff already. Of course not as intense as we did with Raided Land; this was brutal. I worked during the day and at night I worked on the album; really don't want to do that again.
B: How about live gigs?
Torsten: We got in contact with a booker and we hope that we can do some Summer Festivals in Europe next year. But this requires some planning since we do have to fly in our singer who still lives in Brazil; so everything has to be well organized.
Dirk: And we have jobs; right now, we need to go to work to pay the bills.
B: And now the famous last words.
Torsten: We really want to thanks all of our fans in North America. The feedback to the new album is very pleasant and we actually receive a lot of mail from the US.
Dirk: We appreciate the love coming from America.
Posted on 17.12.2013 by
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