They’ll take us for what the band is.
Exumer’s 2012 album Fire & Damnation (reviewed here) marked a promising return for the band pleasing many a long-time devotee and turning the heads of many of the new bunch of thrash maniacs. 2016 and the band have returned with The Raging Tides, an album that fulfils all that its predecessor promised. Here, vocalist Mem Von Stein talks to MR’s Jason Guest about the album and its themes, its writing and recording, the band and their development since their reformation eight years ago, and the shift of power in modern society…
Thank you very much for taking time out for this interview and congratulations on The Raging Tides (reviewed here). It’s been four years since your acclaimed “comeback” album Fire & Damnation, what was it that you wanted to achieve with this new album?
I don’t know if we wanted to achieve so much as just continue to build on what we started after we came back with Fire & Damnation. I guess we wanted to perfect our sound, get better at songwriting maybe, take the most positive aspects of Fire & Damnation and build on them and then just kind of like, up our game in terms of songwriting and production. I think this album, The Raging Tides, definitely has more upfront, in your face production, and those are some of the things that we really wanted to achieve, if you want to say that, which kind of answers your next question…
How has Exumer evolved these past four years? And how is that reflected on the album?
…we evolved as a band we also took our experiences from playing from when we started the band back up in the past eight years, and really, putting that into our repertoire and into the vibe of the band together. Obviously we did a lot of touring for Fire & Damnation, pretty much all around the globe and I think that speaks for itself when you listen to the new record.
Did you have an idea of how you wanted the album to sound or did each of the tracks and the whole thing take shape as it was being developed?
With the sound of the new record or each of the tracks, it kind of like grew organically so basically when we started tracking we had a certain sound and then we built on top of that and it kind of grew into the record that you hear. It took shape as we recorded it… we had certain ideas but we weren’t 100% sure where we would take the record or how the sound was gonna shape up. It just kinda grew organically and the end result is what you hear…
How long were you working on the material? And how did it evolve during that time?
We’ve been working on the new material, let’s say, since 2014. Kinda approached it the same way as the last one; Ray would start gathering riffs then he would send me some of the riffs, and all the other guys. I would start figuring out some vocal lines and some lyrical ideas and from that start thinking about concepts for the whole record and then kind of match the vibe of the lyrics to the vibe of the riff. That’s how we took things from there and then basically what we do is work on what we call “projects”, so the record is a project and the songwriting process is, we have these fragments of songs. We get together for a few weeks at a time and we work on the songs as a band. We did that in the summer of 2014 for a few weeks and early 2015 for a week or two and then again in the summer of 2015. After that we were pretty much basically done and we headed to the studio. We did a few things here and there in the studio but, y’know, basically Ray will write all the riffs and the music and then everybody puts in their thoughts and ideas after that when we come together as a band if need be…
The album is based largely around the theme of human suffering in relation to politics, religion, and personal gain at the cost of others’ lives, all of which feature heavily in our media-saturated society. Given that there are more document leaks and figures such as Edward Snowden making the headlines, do you think attitudes are changing and that we may see, even be a part of a significant shift in power in the near future?
The lyrics of this record are all strung together by title and, y’know, it’s basically an accumulation of things that I’ve been reading about, thinking about, listening to on the radio… it’s been at the forefront of my mind in terms of what’s happening in the world today: how things are shifting, how people use certain aspects of life whether it be religion, monetary, politics to advance their own personal gains and… things like what happened with Edward Snowden, him having the leaks online… I think what happens is that every time anybody gets exposed in a certain way, there’ll be an uproar for a while and then people will mainly forget about it.
Right now with the power of the internet and what’s going on, I think people will not forget about it and be a lot more careful about who they monitor or not monitor and how that all plays out… so I think the shift of power is more in terms of people being more aware of that these things can leak and these things can come to light and so… people are gonna be a lot more careful I think.
For The Raging Tides, you teamed up with producer/engineer Waldemar Soychta at Waldstreet Sound in Dortmund, Germany. Why did you choose to work with Soychta? And what did he bring to the band, the music and its recording?
Yeah, we teamed up with Waldemar again. We chose to work with him again because we worked with him on the last record and developed a really positive relationship. And he brought to this recording and to the last one the ability to get really good performances out of us, tweak certain things out of us without compromising the sound or our vision. So somewhere along the way we developed a friendship with him and so it made sense to record this record with him and we’re gonna record the next record with him as well…
I read elsewhere that Fire & Damnation was written with band members living on different continents. Was it the same for this album?
Yeah, I live in New York… we live in different places and we’re a bi-continental band. I live in New York, our bassist Tony lives in New York, the rest live in Germany. We’ve been working in this setup for the past eight years and nothing has changed so it doesn’t really reflect one way or another on any of the recordings. This is, y’know, just a fact of our lives and I think we deal with it really well so when we come together and work on music, we really focus and shut out everything else, which if we would live in the same place, we might rehearse once or twice or three times a week or once or twice or three times a month as the case may be but we’d be a lot more distracted when we get together on our projects. We’re very focussed and we know what we have to do and that distance helps us to keep on track for that. We’re trying to be as disciplined as possible.
The Hockey-masked character’s role was downplayed for the Fire & Damnation album art, but he’s back in full for The Raging Tides. Why so?
We downplayed it if you wanna call it that because when we came back, we didn’t wanna ride the “old school” wave and come back with a full-on old school imagery and old school whatever because, fact of the matter is we were starting from scratch. Yes, we are what you consider a cult band from the 80s but we didn’t want to exploit that type of attitude or that approach. We wanted to say, “alright, we’re a band from the 80s but we’re bringing something new to the game and so it reflected that attitude on Fire & Damnation.
So we wanted to incorporate the mask but not in a way where somebody could pigeonhole us or peg us down to this old school band, a bunch of old dudes doing old things, so I think with this record now, after being back for eight years now it made sense to bring back the whole vibe of the first two records and because now we don’t have to prove to anyone anything. Y’know, it’s our fourth album, the second one on the second time around, so we felt we had a lot more freedom and in retrospect we did the right thing for the band not to go with the old school vibe first time but to do it on this record. People now won’t judge us for that; they’ll take us for what the band is.
Who’s the artist? And why did you choose to work with him/her?
The artist is a Swedish guy who has a real name but he wants us to stick with Obsessed By Cruelty. We chose to work with him because we really like his artwork. I used to buy t-shirts and still t-shirts that he designs from old school bands of the 80s and death metal bands or black metal bands stuff that he designs. We talked to a few artists but when he came along with two sketches maybe, we’re like immediately, this is it. It just kinda organically flowed into the concept and everything so it totally made sense for us to work with him. Yeah, a lot of people like the artwork, it works really well…
It’s been over thirty years now since Exumer formed. How does the band of today compare to the band of the early days?
The band from the early days is just myself and Ray in this version of the band but I think we have a really strong line-up now. In the early days we were like very fickle, y’know, very young, not as focussed. Obviously, that has its charm, a certain vibe and a certain energy. I think now we have a really good strong line-up of people that are committed to the band and when we set out to do certain things, we actually achieve them when it’s less chaotic; I mean there’s a certain amount of chaos but we keep it together a lot better than when we were 17, 18, 19, so I think there’s a certain amount of maturity that also reflects in the music.
Any plans for shows in support of the album? And any plans to visit the UK?
Yeah, we’re supporting the album right now. We’re on a European tour. We’d love to visit the UK; the UK’s a difficult place to tour and play, we’d love to do it if we can but it’s not as easy.
Early days I know as the album has just been released but what does the future hold for Exumer? Is there more music in the works?
We’ll definitely work on music after we tour for this record for the next couple of years. We’re far from being done. We’ve kinda like really started just now.
Thanks again for taking time out for this interview. Do you have any closing words for our readers?
Thank you for taking out the time to ask me these questions and thanks to everyone for supporting our band for the pat 30+ years. Really appreciate it. Thanks.