Deciphering the case Perzonal War

When you think about it, Perzonal War is a band with a serious background: five albums and ten years of existence under that name (with two more records as “Personal War”). And yet, they’re still seen as a newish band in the metal world due to their relative discretion. In this respect, Perzonal War has always been a mystery, given the quality of their work and the huge potential for fan support that they show. But there are probably many artists out there who are in this situation, because they lack the necessary time and money to bring their music to the audience.

It was therefore a pleasure to talk to vocalist Matthias Zimmer again, ten years after our first interview together. He mentions the reasons for which, according to him, the band is still so confidential, at least outside of Germany, their home country. For him, the band is a “great hobby” in a life that revolves mainly around his job and his family. It was also the opportunity to go back on the evolution of the band in the last ten years, and especially how they’ve managed to get rid of the label with “band that did what Metallica should have done after the Black Album” written on it that was pinned on them after Different But The Same and Faces.

Perzonal War released Captive Breeding earlier this year, but Zimmer told us that the band is already working on the sequel and would like to have it released by next year. Are things finally getting faster for the band?

The singer talks about all that and more in the following interview.

« It’s hard when you don’t earn money with a band, and you still have to spend time and sweat to do it. We have to have something to eat, so we have to work! When you have a family, you have to care about that as well. »

Radio Metal: You recently quit AFM Records and got signed by Metalville. Can you explain why the collaboration with AFM Records came to an end??

Matthias Zimmer (vocals, guitars): When we started working with AFM Records, the circumstances were completely different. The whole business has changed very much. Our main contact with AFM Records was Andy Allendörfer, the chief of the company. He died in a tragic accident years ago. Since his death, things had been going not so well for us. We found we didn’t get real support, because there were no people left at AFM who really liked Perzonal War. AFM has developed more towards a “true metal” label. That’s what they support and stand behind. It was just not the right place for Perzonal War anymore. Both sides decided not to do another record. We hope we made the right choice with Metalville. We don’t know yet, but we hope it will turn out well for us.

Do you know what the “problem” with Perzonal War’s music was?

When you see the artists at AFM, it’s a bit more old school, more “true”. There was a time when they signed Tankard, Destruction, and us. They were looking for thrashy bands. But when you see the direction their development took… It always depends on the tastes of the people who work there. The guys who work at AFM really are very much into the “true metal” stuff, and we were not fitting. It really wasn’t a personal problem, it was our music.

Metalville is a much smaller label than AFM Records. Does this mean that you had some trouble finding a record deal?

Of course. Times have changed regarding records and labels. The whole business has changed completely compared to 10 or 12 years ago. There are the big names that everybody knows, like Nuclear Blast or Century Media. There are only a few labels who work on a professional level, in my opinion. So it’s very hard to get a deal in these hard times. We sent a lot of tapes to different labels, and we had some offers, but in the end, we decided to take Metalville because they are from Cologne. We also live near Cologne, so we hope it will make some things easier for us. In terms of communication, we can drive to them, talk about things. Maybe the communication will work better. So far we’re satisfied, but we don’t know how much we’ve sold, or whether the CD is out in all the stores they’re telling us it should be! (laughs) We’ll see. We’ll know more after a few months.

One thing that rely bugs me is the fact that you now have five more than solid records, but we still barely hear from you in the media, at least here in France. So far you have mostly toured in Germany and barely got to play out of you home country. What’s the reason for this situation? This is actually frustrating as the band has an immense potential in attracting metalheads.

The problem is that it’s hard to combine family, jobs and all the other things you care about with music. When we started playing music, we had time. We were studying, we were in school, so we had enough time to care about music, play shows and whatever. Now, I’m a father since 2010, our drummer Martin bought a house and built his own studio, stuff like that. It’s hard when you don’t earn money with a band, and you still have to spend time and sweat to do it. We have to have something to eat, so we have to work! When you have a family, you have to care about that as well. Then the band comes into the game. Of course we’d like to do more, but it’s just hard to manage everything.

« The Different But The Same era was pretty hard, with AFM Records selling the record as early Metallica stuff. Maybe it was not that clever, because we never really got away from this stuff! »

So it’s about your personal situation in general?

Yes, I would say it’s the main problem.

At the time of Different But The Same, everybody thought you sounded just like James Hetfield – and you actually sounded very much like Hetfield – and the band was largely compared to Metallica. Do you still hear these comparisons today or did you actually succeed in breaking free from them?

I think the comparisons stopped with the When Times Turn Red album. Of course, people who want to hear a sound like Metallica’s still hear it. We play 80s-influenced thrash metal, and we’re mainly influenced by the American bands, and less by the German stuff, in my eyes. Some people still see similarities, but it’s pretty rare. As you mentioned, the Different But The Same era was pretty hard, with AFM Records selling the record as early Metallica stuff. Maybe it was not that clever, because we never really got away from this stuff! (laughs) But we have found our own style and our own way of writing songs. It’s OK now. I think the good thing with Perzonal War is that we really do the music we like most. On one hand, maybe it would be cool to be bigger. But on the other band, we are completely free. We can do what we like and what we want. If people like it, it’s cool; if they don’t, we won’t die. It’s a cool hobby. If and when people like it, it’s great, but if not, we make money with different things, so it’s OK! (laughs) Of course, there are still people who say we do Metallica stuff, but other tell us: “You don’t sound like Metallica anymore. I liked the first two albums, but now you’re too modern, too progressive, and I can’t live with the new stuff”. There will always be those two different opinions. We do what we want, and I just hope people like it!

Do you think success can have an impact on creativity and freedom of creativity?

Maybe. When you see what people like… Maybe you don’t do it purposely, but you do it through feeling. When you see songs that work very good live, or when people come to see you after the show and tell you they liked this song or that, you get influenced by it, I think. Maybe the more successful you get, the more influenced you are. But if you don’t have to sell albums to keep the band alive, maybe it keeps you free. Personally, I think Perzonal War got heavier and heavier over the years. A lot of people have asked why we get heavier, because a lot of bands get softer as they get older, or maybe take a more groovy direction. For us, Perzonal War is a way to vent out some aggression in a positive way. Besides the job, the family and other things you have to care about, you can let everything out, and afterwards, you say: “Wow, it was good to do this rehearsal”, and then you feel better. It’s good to have a way to let out aggressiveness or frustration in a positive way.

You have quite evolved since your first album as Perzonal War, each album bringing stronger and more personal elements. In that respect, Bloodline sounded very much like an achievement in this evolution process. And as a matter of fact, your new album, Captive Breeding, is very much in the same vein. Has Bloodline become an important album in your eyes to define and settle Perzonal War’s musical style?

Yeah, maybe. I think Bloodline was the album where we really said: “OK, we do what we want”. It was different from what it was before. I think with the Faces album, we still had this Metallica stamp. For When Times Turn Red, we really tried to leave everything that sounded like Metallica behind us, just to make it clear that we have our own style and can write our own songs. So please, everyone shut up, we’ll do something that’s not Metallica! It was the first time people said: “It’s something unique, it’s great. You can still see the roots of the band, but they developed their own way”. With Bloodline, we were completely free, because we knew we could do something other than the Metallica stuff. We just decided to make the music we liked at the moment, and to not care about any commercial purposes. Maybe it’s our most free album so far. I think that’s the direction Perzonal War will take in the future.

About the Bloodline album: « Maybe it’s our most free album so far. I think that’s the direction Perzonal War will take in the future. »

Did you at one point get sick of hearing the comparison with Metallica?

When we started, it was of course a compliment. When people tell you: “You sound like Metallica, it’s great!”, you think: “Cool! Thank you very much, it’s one of my favorite bands!” In most cases, people said: “They sound like Metallica, and they do what Metallica can’t do anymore”. That was of course a compliment. But there comes a time when you get tired of it. We’re a different band, we’re Perzonal War! We got rid of this Metallica stuff and tried to take another direction, without neglecting our roots. I think it worked. Of course, you also get different influences over the years. The whole metal scene took a different direction. When we started playing music, the Bay Area thrash was what we liked most. It’s something we still like and listen to, but there are so many other awesome bands we can be influenced by – maybe In Flames or Machine Head, or the Pantera style. The combination of all this gives you the chance to create something new. We are open to everything, even different kinds of music. I hope that makes us a bit more… (long hesitation) From the beginning of Perzonal War, we didn’t see ourselves as a typical thrash band. We tried to combine melody, fast stuff, maybe low-tunes guitars… We wanted to make thrash metal, but with enough other elements to make it catchy and be recognized by people who enjoy other styles of metal.

You had some line-up changes, but this doesn’t translate into any obvious changes in the music of Captive Breeding. Were you confident in how the playing style of these new musicians would match the musical identity of Perzonal War?

Of course. I would have liked to play with the same line-up till the end, I think that’s everyone’s dream. In my eyes, it’s very important the band has a stable line-up. We played with the same line-up for years when we started, but then… It was Martin, our drummer, and I who formed the band. I think we spent the most time in songwriting or the organization of everything, and we really put a lot of heart into the whole thing. We still do. For us, it’s pure passion. We never did it to make money, and we’ll never do it. It’s all about making music and doing what we like most. It may be hard for people who have come later into the band, because for them, it might be just a project, or a cool band, but nothing more. After two or three years, they see we don’t make money, and it’s not only fun but also hard work: we have to write songs, care about the home page and social media, organize gigs… People see us go on stage and have fun, and they think it’s cool. But there’s a lot of work behind it. Without work, you don’t have songs, you don’t have an album, you don’t have anything. They start seeing things in a different way. I hope the line-up is stable now, and I’m satisfied with the musicians. Björn, our bass player, has been in the band for six or seven years, and it feels pretty good, but you never know what might happen in the future.

Why did you change your logo? Did you feel a need to update your image in a more modern way?

When we changed our name from Personal War to Perzonal War, we started with a new logo. The problem was that it never had the power we wanted it to have. When you see our old logo on flyers or posters, it was too small and it didn’t get much attention. So we said: “We’ve had a four-year break, so let’s start with a new logo that will be maybe a bit more cliché and metal”. We thought we could take the Overkill or Megadeth direction, just to make clear this is a thrash metal band. I hope it worked!

If you were so dissatisfied with your first logo, why did you wait for four albums to change it?

To be honest, I don’t know! (laughs) We thought about doing something new, or maybe changing it a bit, but then we thought people already knew the logo and it was well-established. Then we came to a point when we thought: “Who cares? Let’s just do it”. I think it’s much better now!

A few songs on the album seem to be talking about the end of the world or the end of a life. For example, there’s “The Last Day”, “Termination”, or “The End”. Where does this recurrent idea come from?

It’s strange, because we never had an idea of a concept or whatever. Some people have asked me before if there’s a concept behind it, or if it has to do with the Apocalypse, or the end of the world. No, it has not! It’s just a reflection of what’s happening right now. It’s getting worse and worse. When you read the news, or watch TV, you only have bad news everywhere. In a way, it’s kind of frustrating, because it seems we live in a completely shitty world. I don’t think it’s so bad, but the media and the newspapers seem to try to convince people they live in a bad world and they should take care. When I start writing lyrics, in general, I don’t know what they will deal with. I just start writing, and at the end, there’s something that makes sense. When I’ve dealt with it, I leave it behind. Maybe it’s a kind of self-therapy. If you ask me: “What do you mean with ‘Candor Hurts’, or with ‘Termination’”, I couldn’t tell you exactly. It’s just thoughts written on paper and put into a song, and in the end, it makes sense. But what sense? I really can’t say! (laughs)

« I think people care more about technical development, computers and social networks than about their real life. In my eyes, that’s not state of the art, it’s regression of the art. »

About “Regression Of The Art”, do you think art is getting less and less interesting nowadays, or was it once again completely spontaneous?

I think “Regression Of The Art” is not focused on art itself. The right term would be “state of the art”. I chose “regression of the art”, because the whole technical development is so quick nowadays. I have a one-year-old child now, and I can’t help thinking about my own childhood. At the time, technical development was much lower. I think it’s very hard for a child to grow up with all these steady changes that are getting quicker and quicker. I don’t know if people’s brains can grow with a steadily changing situation. We are in this “state of the art” situation, which makes us think we are developing into a high class society. But there are other things that are much more important, like personality or friendship. I think people care more about technical development, computers and social networks than about their real life. In my eyes, that’s not state of the art, it’s regression of the art.

Since When Time Turns Red, and more specifically the title song, some riffs feature the use of a Whammy pedal and we can say that this has become one of the trademarks of the band’s sound. Who’s responsible for this? Not so many bands use the Whammy pedal as part of heavy riffs like you do.

I think it was just coincidence! (laughs) Some years ago, Martin was also the one who produced our albums. A band just forgot a Whammy pedal in the studio, and we were like: “Wow, what’s that?!” (laughs) Then we realized it was the thing Dimebag Darrell used for the Pantera stuff. We experimented with it, it sounded cool, so now we use the Whammy pedal! I think it makes the sound of thrash metal a bit more interesting.

CEach Perzonal War album contains at least one song that stands a little bit apart because of the strong gothic vibe that it features. I’m thinking of songs like “Open My World”, “Faces”, “The Unbeliever”, “Dying Face” and “The Last Day”. The last time we spoke, you told me that none of you guys listened to gothic metal, so where does this recurring melancholic vibe come from?

We all like Paradise Lost, for example. It’s a great band. But none of us is very much into gothic metal. I think the vocal harmonies in Perzonal War are a bit melancholic, and when you combine that with our guitars and our riffs, it takes us to a gothic direction. But we don’t say: “OK, we want to be gothic”. It’s not planned, and none of us is a gothic fan. Maybe stuff like Paradise Lost has an influence on us without us knowing it!

Before the release of Different But The Same you changed the name of the band from Personal War to Perzonal War because of financial problems and B-Mind Records, your label at the time, who didn’t want to let you go. As a consequence, your first two albums kind of fell into oblivion. Have you thought about re-releasing these albums or re-recording some songs? Would that actually be possible, contractually?

We thought about it, we really did. Maybe we’ll do it one day, or maybe we’ll do a compilation of both records: pick out the best songs and re-record them. We really had it in mind, but I don’t know if we will do it. The problem is, there were four years between Bloodline and Captive Breeding. We’ll be trying to release the next album next year, and I hope we can manage it. We really want to focus on new material now. Maybe we’ll do it afterwards. I don’t know, but we’ve already thought about it. So we’ll see.

What you’re saying is that there’ll be a new Perzonal War album next year?

Yes, we’ll try. I hope it will be released in the summer. Our plans are to record the new album in February or March. Then a possible release date could be June or July. So it will be pretty quick!

So you already have some songs written?

Yes, some songs are written. Not completely, but we have enough ideas. We’re working on new stuff, so I think it will be possible to do a good new album pretty soon.

How will it sound like?

To be honest, I don’t know so far. We’ll try to keep it a bit simpler. I think Captive Breeding is our most progressive album to date. Our guitarist did a very, very good job. We let him do everything he wanted. Maybe the next one will go back to basics a bit more. The songs can get easier, a bit more catchy, without losing heaviness. I would like it to be a bit more straightforward. I don’t know if it will work, but that’s the plan: keep it simpler and rawer, more alive.

Do you have some shows planned for the next few months? In France, maybe?

We hope so. We have a new booker, and of course we’d like to play in France. The only thing that we did in France was a festival, and it was with Paradise Lost, some years ago! (laughs) I think it was the only time we played in France. We are planning some shows for the rest of the year, with some friends of us, some bands we’d like to play with. There’s nothing confirmed yet, but we’re working on it.

I hope we’ll see you. Ten years ago, you were supposed to play here with Rage and Primal Fear, but you couldn’t make it because of financial problems. You also talked to me about Nevermore shows and In Flames shows, but they never happened.

Yeah, I think the only Nevermore show was in Switzerland. I hope we’ll come to France someday!

Interview conducted by phone on October, 2nd, 2012
Questions: Spaceman & Metal’O Phil
Transcription: Saff’

Perzonal War’s official website: www.perzonalwar.de

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