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Powerwolf: The crusade is escalating


Powerwolf 2015

Could Powerwolf take over heavy metal, as part of a new generation that will eventually replace the dinosaurs of the genre? If Falk Maria Schlegel and Roel Van Helden (the pack’s keyboardist and drummer, respectively) are to be believed, it could well be the case – and their ever-growing success seems to back them up. After all, Powerwolf work with all the best ingredients: a strong musical and visual identity, heaps of actual hymns, super entertaining shows, regularity, consistency in their musical offerings, etc. The band have recently released their sixth album, Blessed & Possessed, which comes after the very successful Preachers Of The Night. The fans shouldn’t be disappointed: this new album is in perfect line with the rest of their discography.

We talked about these subjects with the two musicians, and about the band’s trademarks: religious and horrific themes, their taste for cliché, their sense of entertainment, etc. This very laidback conversation also allowed us to witness how much they love to joke around and have fun. But don’t go thinking they’re a band of “jokers”: to them, music is serious business!

Powerwolf 2015

« There’s a new generation of heavy metal fans who don’t know the older bands. They know Powerwolf and Sabaton, bands like that. »

Radio Metal: Ever since the very beginning, Powerwolf have rigorously released an album every two years. Is it important to have that strong regularity?

Falk Maria Schlegel (keyboards): I don’t know if it is important but it’s the way we do it [laughs].

Roel Van Helden (drums): It’s our cycle. Many bands have that cycle of two years. I believe Megadeth has that as well. It gives us enough time to tour, to write and record. I don’t know if we will keep continuing that in the future but up to now it has worked for us.

Falk: I think we’re also a hard working band. So, when we finish the touring we immediately start doing songwriting; we want to write new songs and work on a new album. After Blessed & Possessed, I don’t know, perhaps we will go on tour for two years…

Roel: I know we will go on tour for two years! [Laughs] I know the schedule!

With Blessed & Possessed, your new album, you’ve once again used Fredrik Nordström as the producer, Matthew Greywolf once again did the artwork and you even used the same organ from the St. Barbe Church in Thionville that you used on a couple of your latest albums. In short: you seem to be very conservative when it comes to your music and the making process…

Falk: I think it’s good to have a good team around you but it doesn’t mean that it’s always the same.

Roel: We used someone else for the mastering this time.

Falk: Yes, we used Jens Bogren this time. But it’s a chance to have the same team because we can have more details is a song. For example, we used this orchestral percussion stuff. We had the choir recorded separately so they could do a special mix. Fredrik did the mixing again but, on one side, he knows how Powerwolf should sound like and, on the other side, he has the possibility to get more details in it. So it’s not about always doing the same thing and having the same producer and so on, it’s more… It’s often more work to work with the same guys [laughs], because everybody wants to improve some things.

Roel: Yes, that’s one very good reason to keep using the same team: you can look back on your last album and think: “We did this right but we can do that better.”And if everybody from the whole team thinks that way, the product will just keep on getting better. Sound wise, this is the best album we’ve had so far.

Falk: The fact that you can improve something is one thing, on the other side, each one of us develops. I always say it’s like a picture of a family. It’s this and then two years later it becomes this, and then you can combine everything. It’s a good team, and we need this family.

Apparently you took nine very intense months to do this album. Do you feel like having put more effort into this one, especially since you had to outdo Preachers Of The Night which was a very successful album? How would you compare your investment on this album to your previous ones?

Falk: It’s always hard work! [Chuckles] I can’t say it was more than Preachers Of The Night.

Roel: It’s kind of the same: we always give a hundred percent.

Falk: Each album is a 24/7 work, and we’re really happy now to do an interview with you [laughs] because that means that we have finished this! And you’re right, Preachers Of The Night was a really great success for us. At the beginning of the songwriting process, to be honest, there was a bit of pressure. Not a pressure from the people or the label. It was a pressure from us wanting to write another good album. A pressure from ourselves: “Can we do it again?” Then we wrote “Blessed & Possessed”, the opening track on the new album, and we said: “Yes! We can!” [Laughs] So that was the start of the songwriting process for Blessed & Possessed. And we always do our very best. I can’t say if it’s more or less than Preachers Of The Night or Blood Of The Saints or Bible Of The Beast. It’s always really hard work, and now I’m happy to go on stage again!

Although the process was the same as with previous albums, you invited the choir men and women to sing directly in the studio this time, which caused some logistical complications. Can you tell me more about that and what did proceeding that way with the choir bring to the music?

Roel: It was thirty-five people, right?

Falk: Yes, thirty-five people. Last time we recorded a choir with ten people together. We had some problems in the mix because we have one track for all the people. So this time we did it separately. I think it was a good idea but it was a hell of a schedule…

Roel: But in the end it paid off because if one song required just five backing singer, we could just put five tracks. And if you need a big sound, you could put them all up.

Falk: A thing with the choir, we use it but sometimes you don’t even recognize it, so it’s just a detail. For example, “Higher Than Heaven” is a song that has this battle between Attila’s voice and the choir and Attila wins [laughs]. It’s important: we are a fuckin’ heavy metal band! We need this for our sound but it’s not a main part.

Roel: It’s just a detail.

Falk: If you can imagine: we have recorded thirty-five people to record the choir, and it’s just a detail! That’s how Powerwolf works. We have this certain atmosphere on the songs but we’re still a fucking heavy metal band. We don’t want to fill it up with choirs and stuff. At the very beginning it’s about having a good song, with good drums, good guitars and of course the organ [laughs].

Powerwolf - Falk Maria Schlegel 2015

« We’re not Christians, we’re not believers at all but if Christians or any religious people would read our lyrics, they won’t be offended. That’s important to us. »

This organ actually became very important in your music…

Falk: It was a development. At the beginning I used a Hammond organ sound. I really love Hammond organ. I really love Jon Lord’s Deep Purple stuff. After a while I used a church organ…

Roel: And it became a trademark.

Falk: It became a trademark and I think this sometimes sound a little bit more evil or heavy than a guitar sound.

Roel: It sounds fairly aggressive.

Falk: I think, yeah. It really sends shivers down your spine when the church organ plays your songs. And on the other side it just fits to the songs. But also, some parts on the new record, “Dead Until Dark” for example, on the verse, we don’t need an organ there, it’s okay. It has to fit to the song. We don’t use it because we have an organ. We use it because it fits to Powerwolf.

Roel: Because it adds something…

Falk: Not only adding, sometimes I play the same line that the guitar does or that Attila sings. So… That’s Powerwolf, you know. To be honest, I would never play keyboard sounds like strings or stuff like progressive metal bands do, that’s not my style. I do like bands who do that…

Roel: You do? I don’t! [Laughs]

Falk: Dream Theater… [Laughs] No, but it’s Powerwolf, you know.

The album is called Blessed & Possessed, which might sound like two contradictory terms. What do you put behind these words? What is the symbolic?

Roel: We like this opposition and it also comes down to our live shows where we have on one side the majestic stage presence, our stage always looks like you’re in a church – a heavy metal church -, our singer Attila swings around the incense, before the shows we make a circle and we start howling like a wolf pack… All those majestic things are the blessed part. And the possessed part is when we start…

Falk: When we start freaking out… [chuckles]

Roel: When he runs around on stage and starts screaming and… When the audience starts going mad, that’s the possessed part.

Falk: As far as the lyrics are concerned, Blessed & Possessed means that on one side, you have this religious life, or a normal life with rules, and on the other side, you want to break all of this. For example, the song “Sacramental Sister” is about a nun who lives in chastity and has a religious life, and on the other side, she also has sexual desires. So Blessed & Possessed stands, as we said, for our music and live performances but also for…

Roel: It comes back in a lot of our lyrics.

Falk: You can also compare to the crusades – we write a lot about the crusades: they’re blessed and live a good life but then they start murdering people. We have a lot of songs like that. “Catholic In The Morning… Satanist At Night”, for example as well. It’s very important to mention that we’re not religious fanatics or something like that. We describe historical events and religious things but we don’t want to hurt religious feelings, we don’t want to lecture about that. That’s a really important thing.

Roel: Yeah, we’re not Christians, we’re not believers at all but if Christians or any religious people would read our lyrics, they won’t be offended. That’s important to us.

You’ve always mixed the themes of religion and horrific creatures, especially werewolves, in your music. Where does this association come from and how do you make use of it?

Falk: At the beginning it was Attila because he has his roots in Romania. After a while it developed and we changed this into this religious stuff. But we’re interested in these sagas and we read a lot, for example “Armata Strigoi” is also linked to the history of werewolves of Romania. You can read a lot about this strigoi, it’s a bodyless, undead creature, you have so many meanings behind this, it’s very interesting for Powerwolf.

Roel: It also fits to the music, singing about the undead, werewolves, vampires, zombies… All of this gets along well with metal! [Laughs] It combines very well!

Falk: That’s one thing: we love the clichés! And on the other hand we’re reading a lot of about that. For example, Matthew read about the strigoi. He talked to me about this two years ago and now we wrote the song line, and then he said: “That really fits to ‘Armata Strigoi’!” We read a lot in the bible, we read a lot of historical stuff, we read a lot of these sagas, and then we write a song, we write a chorus, and we realize it fits perfect to “Armata Strigoi”.

In the making of video you’re mentioning that “the bible is quite a massive book – there’s still a lot of space for [you] to paraphrase and experience.” How much of an inspiration the bible is to you?

Falk: A lot, it’s a big book! [Chuckles] But it’s not only the bible. In my hometown in Saarbrücken, you’ve got a French border with a lot of libraries with a lot of very old books, and I was interested in these since I was a child and Matthew too. So the story never ends. You have so many things to write about…

Roel: The bible or, as you say, the very old books are a very good way to have a direct look into the past, with what people wrote hundreds and hundreds years ago. This is the closest to time travelling you can get! To just have it directly from the writer to you, with someone speaking to you from the past through these books. That’s very interesting.

Falk: It doesn’t mean we write lyrics that are directly about that, but you have it in mind. And after a while, it stays with you, and then you write a song. We know that, so we can only write about something that we know [chuckles].

Powerwolf - Blessed & Possessed

« Nous avons ce divertissement sur scène, évidemment, mais nous ne voulons pas avoir cette image rigolote, du genre ‘bière, bière, bière, bière… ‘ »

Each of your albums ends with an atmospheric outro…

Falk: Yes [laughs]!

It actually gives the feeling of a closure of a story or even a movie…

Falk: Even a movie?! [Chuckles]

Roel: Yeah! It’s like the end credits!

So do you see a cinematic aspect in your music?

Falk: Difficult question.

Roel: I think the music when you really listen to it, it gives you images about whatever the lyrics maybe about. I think there’ll be pictures in the mind of the listener.

Falk: You’re right, the last songs is really… You can hear it and think about the album or something like that. When we composed the music for “Let There Be Night”, we didn’t know it’d end up being the last song but when we wrote the chorus, then we knew. Do you know what I mean? We don’t write a song having in mind it’s gonna be the last one, but we think: “’Let There Be Night’? That’s the last song!”

If you were film makers rather than musicians, what kind of movie would you do?

Roel: Porn!

Both: [Big Laughs].

Roel: I’m sorry, I’m surrounded by all these pictures on the wall! [Laughs] I would do a pornographic movie with a lot of zombies! Probably. [Laughs]

Falk: We’re interested in movies like Night Watch, a Russian movie we were inspired by for the last album (note: the song “Nochnoi Dozor”). So that’s also the main theme. We were watching it on the tourbus, right?

Roel: Yeah! Plus some Manowar DVDs…

Falk: Yes! [Laughs]

There’s deliberately a lot of clichés in your music. How and where do you put the limit in order to never fall into being a parodic band? Are you careful of that?

Roel: There a small line there…

Falk: I don’t know if there’s a limit.

Roel: There is a limit. I joined the band in 2011. And there are a lot of fun things going on on stage, like our singer playing with the audience, and the first or second show I thought of something cool to do. When I had my drums solo, I switched my regular sticks for bread sticks – you know, for eating with the soup -, I held them high and I ate them. For the audience point of view, they were thinking: “What’s he doing? Is he eating his drum sticks?” I took ten second for people to realize: “Oh, these are not real drum sticks!” I thought that was kind of cool but then, after the show, some guys came to me: “What are you doing?!” “That’s a fun joke to do!” “No, that’s ridiculous!” So that’s where I crossed the line of becoming a parody band. Like Steel Panther, they have crossed that line, but we haven’t crossed that line.

Falk: The thing is, about these limits, to underline that we’re not religious fanatics, we sometimes use the ironical way to describe things. For example, “Resurrection By Erection”, it makes it clear that we’re not religious fanatics. That’s one side, but the music, on the other side, is very serious. We have this entertainment on stage, of course, but we don’t want this fun image, it’s not like “beer, beer, beer, beer…” or something like that. You can have a party, but we also have the message, we’re not a fun band, you know what I mean? We want to entertain and people to have fun, but… You get the point. So, there are perhaps some limits but I don’t know… Are there limits? Maybe I’m too stupid! [Laughs]

Matthew Greywolf made it clear once that the band wanted to keep making exactly the same music with each album, just with good new songs. How do you manage to keep yourselves challenged with your music by never changing? Don’t you ever feel any weariness or aren’t you even afraid to provoke weariness amongst the fans?

Falk: The thing is that the change is in the details. We have created our very own style. I don’t know any band who use church organ and plays heavy metal like this. But then, to be honest, we play heavy metal. But the thing is that we have added a freshness in this thing. In my opinion, there’s a new generation of heavy metal fans who don’t know the older bands. They know Powerwolf and Sabaton, bands like that. Yes, we write new songs, but there’s a development in the details. We have this way of creating our songs, why should we change that?

Roel: We love the music that we do. Fans seem to like it. Why should we change? Like AC/DC doesn’t change at all! People would only be disappointed if we changed!

Falk: That’s the point of view of the fans but we love the music that we do. We write the music that we do and we’re really addicted to that. So, there’s a development but this is the kind of music that we write. It’s not a shame to do that! You could change some things but why? Only for the sake of changing is not a good reason.

Roel: And we don’t want to change.

Falk: We want to write good new songs! [Laughs]

Powerwolf 2015

« We love the music that we do. You could change some things but why? »

The limited edition of the album comes with a bonus CD, called Metallum Nostrum, full of cover songs from Judas Priest, Savatage, Iron Maiden, etc. I know you guys have a sort of ritual before going on stage: you all listen together to some songs by other bands to give you energy. Are these songs on the bonus CD the ones you actually listen to before going on stage?

Roel: One of them, yes! “Gods Of War Arise” from Amon Amarth, we always listen to that one before going on stage.

Falk: This and Bon Jovi! But that not on the bonus CD [laughs].

Roel: Yeah, we listen to some crazy music sometimes [laughs] to keep the nerves down.

Falk: Yeah, the latest song we’ve used before going on stage’s been Amon Amarth, but Metallum Nostrum is a kind of history of everybody. And we chose songs that are not so popular. You know, Judas Priest’s “Touch Of Evil” is not…

Roel: Yeah, and “The Evil That Men Do” by Iron Maiden is well known but it hasn’t been covered that much. We tried to avoid the clichés of cover songs.

Falk: And we have “Power And Glory” by Chroming Rose. Do you know Chroming Rose?

Roel: Only German people know that! I’m from Holland and I didn’t know that band!

Falk: That was the first record Matthew Greywolf bought! We had this idea in mind for a long time, and we want to release high quality limited editions. We now had the chance to do this cover album, and the first thing Matthew said was: “We have to cover Chroming Rose’s ‘Power And Glory’!” [Laughs] And Charles said: “We have to cover Running Wild!” And I said: “Savatage!” So everybody has his own choice for a song. Ten songs, two album…

Roel: It was a lot of work to do that! [Laughs] Just for a bonus album! But it turned out really good! Some songs we kind of did it like the original – like we didn’t want to mess around too much with Judas Priest – and some other songs we changed. Of course with Amon Amarth where there are grunted vocals, we had Attila’s vocals on it, so that’s a bit of a difference. We did one Gary Moore song, “Out In The Fields”, it’s kind of a hard rock song and we really changed it to a Powerwolf style double bass heavy metal song.

Charles Greywolf handles the bass in studio recordings but you have no bass player on stage. Have you never considered getting a bass player, whether in the early days of the band or later?

Falk: No!

Roel: No! It works like that, with me sitting behind the drums and having four people running around on stage, headbanging, screaming and doing crazy stuff. We don’t need a fifth member running around. The five of us in the band, we’re together, we’re a wolf pack… This has worked for eleven years, so we won’t change it.

Powerwolf’s popularity seems to grow and grow with each album, even reaching number 1 in the German charts with Preachers Of The Night. How can you explain this gradual success?

Roel: Working hard…

Falk: Working hard is one thing but you can’t plan success. I don’t know. I think we did our thing very honestly. We wrote the music we wrote, we do our stage thing, we do… And we didn’t change anything. No one ever told us: “You should write this song this way.” To be honest, our label gets our CD after it’s done! So we only do it for ourselves, and then people like it. That’s a pleasure and a great honor for us.

Roel: It’s on one hand, working hard and doing everything you can and on the other hand, I think we’ve been kind of lucky to be here at the right moment. If we had played this music and doing a big party on stage in the early nineties, when everybody was depressed and listening to grunge, it wouldn’t have worked. I think people are now ready for entertainment.

Falk: Perhaps that has to do with what I mentioned about the new generation…

Roel: Yeah, they wanna party when they go to a show.

Falk: Some people ask me: “What if Iron Maiden didn’t exist anymore, or Motörhead or Judas Priest?” “Oh my God! Iron Maiden should exist forever!” [Laughs] I’m addicted to heavy metal since I was a child, and now the new generation is growing up listening to Powerwolf! I’m grateful for that. And the best thing I can do is to write new songs and go on stage.

Powerwolf - Attila Dorn 2015

« When people have to look at you for one and a half hour, you have to make sure they have something to look at. We’re not that pretty, so… [Laughs] »

Whereas many bands tend to intellectualize heavy metal, you guys seem to go the entertainment way. Is this what heavy metal is to you before anything else, an entertainment?

Roel: I think Powerwolf goes both ways: we take our music and lyrics very seriously, and when we go on stage, we try to play the best we can – we do that also seriously -, but there’s also time to party together with the crowd!

Falk: I think heavy metal is allowed to entertain, I think heavy metal is allowed to use clichés. When you see Iron Maiden, when you see Kiss, when you see Judas Priest, what are they doing? They’re playing the music but they’re also entertaining. When I don’t want to entertain, I only record [laughs].

Roel: When I see a band who’s just there on stage, playing they’re stuff, I think that’s boring! At least, for me.

Falk: Perhaps other people like it but…

Roel: I went to a Rush concert in Frankfurt. Musically, it was superb! Great songs! But why shouldn’t I just stay at home and put that music on? Because there’s not much of a difference! There’s nothing going on on stage, except that you can see them play live but you’re not entertained by bands like that. You have to give something extra when you’re up there. When people have to look at you for one and a half hour, you have to make sure they have something to look at. We’re not that pretty, so… [Laughs]

You actually use corpse paint, which is something that has become generally associated with black metal. Is it important to recall that bands like Kiss or Alice Cooper actually used this in the first place and that this is not the privilege of extreme bands?

Falk: Yes, this is not the privilege of extreme bands! I don’t see Powerwolf in the history of Kiss but the visual aspect was very important from the beginning. And you can also see a development when we played, for example, in Paris with Gamma Ray compared to now. Eleven years later, it’s getting better.

Roel: We look a little bit more professional…

Falk: The thing for me is that I don’t only use some make-up, like an actor. When you go on stage and you’re wearing the make-up…

Roel: You can get into a character…

Falk: Yeah, the character but I also have the chance to get my personality out. So I don’t just go on stage with make-up and then play music… You have this personality in you, and this make-up offers a possibility for me to live that out, you can bring that out, it’s authentic. For example, two hours before a show, I start putting on the make-up, I have a drink, etc.; it’s a ritual. I like the smell of the make-up and everything, it’s great for me. It’s not only I put on the make-up and then go on stage. And yes, we often get that question about black metal bands. Not only these bands are allowed to do that, and our make-ups are different.

Roel: But it’s funny because people who don’t know Powerwolf and see a show, some of them expect a lot for extreme noise, some death-grind-black-whatever, and they’re pleasantly surprised that we play heavy metal! But it’s also sometimes the other way around, when someone goes: “Oh, there’s a black metal band playing! Let’s have a listen!” He might get disappointed! [Laughs]

Falk: A very good thing for Powerwolf is that in our audience there are so many different people: there are black metal fans, heavy metal fans, hard rock fans…

Roel: Lounge fans… [Laughs]

Falk: So that’s also an honor for us to combine the metal fans. I like metal as whole: I like death metal, prog metal, speed metal, thrash… Not extreme black metal, that’s not my style [chuckles]. But the main family is heavy metal.

Roel: I really like vegetarian cannibal metal.

Falk: What’s that? [Laughs]

We do see vegan metal bands nowadays…

Roel: Vegan metal? Yeah! But I only like vegan cannibal metal [laughs].

Interview conducted 22th, may 2015 by Valentin Istria.
Retranscription, introduction and questions: Nicolas Gricourt.
Promo pics: Manuela Meyer.

Powerwolf official website: www.powerwolf.net.



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