SACRED STEEL: 100 percent pure metal

SacredSteel_schwarz02_300dpiGerrit P. Mutz, the singer of SACRED STEEL, is surely one of the nicest guys in the business. I first met him in Dublin, it must have been in 2004, while I was at work for Scream, covering the recording of Primordial’s “The Gathering Wilderness”, while Gerrit then was working for their label Metal Blade. My love for the first three albums were great at the time (it still is), and I remember almost feeling a little starstruck back then. Since then, SACRED STEEL has put out three studioalbums, some a little disappointing, while the new one, “The Bloodshed Summoning” is the best they’ve done for quite a while. This long interview covers the new album of course, along with some news on Geritt’s involement in Battleroar.

When I spoke to you at the Keep It True last year, you didn’t seem to sure about the future of Sacred Steel. You seemed very honest when you told me that you really were more keen on other types of music at the moment. Do you feel that you have regained your enthusiasm for the SACRED STEEL-sound, or did you never lose it in the first place?

-I still enjoy playing live with SACRED STEEL a lot and I simply love the guys in the band. But fact is that I don’t listen to power metal that much anymore. Back in the eighties and nineties I listened to lots of that stuff. Nowadays I prefer even older stuff than eighties metal. I love late sixties, early seventies proto metal and retro stuff that sounds like being recorded 40 years ago. And I’m still listening to tons of doom metal. When we started with SACRED STEEL, I had this vision to keep the eighties alive by playing that sound. Back then there was no vinyl revival, no Keep It True, no vivid underground scene. No nothing. I felt the urge to stick to this sound and help it survive. Nowadays it’s clear that no kind of metal will never die! It’s a sound of generations and there’s lots of good stuff to discover in every metal subgenre. If we would have continued to play the style of our first three albums we would have quit some years ago, I´m sure. There was just nothing more to say about “fighting for metal”, “going to battle”, “killing posers” etc. But we have opened up and became thrashier and more aggressive, as well as more blasphemous. That´s something no so called “true metal” band has done before. And that´s what still makes us outstanding and special. I love it when we get called Germany’s most extreme power metal band! Sure not everybody’s cup of tea but with an own identity! I would not say that I have regained my enthusiasm, but I sure have a weak spot for this kind of metal still and it’s a big part of my being.

After four albums released through the course of seven years, you have now left Massacre Records. A relief, or was it a cooperation that you would’ve liked to continue?

-It sure was a relief!! Massacre did some good things for us and some bad things against our interests. In the end the bad stuff went over the top somehow and discouraged us to continue. I wish them all the best, but I am just happy that we’re not with them any longer.

I don’t know a lot about how the label is run, but from a reviewer’s point of view, they’re releasing almost only crap these days.

-Well, they have to survive and, as far as I see it, they thrive on taking money from small bands that pay for everything themselves and do nothing but to put out their records. With not much effort, advertisement or money put into it. It’s a legitimate business idea, but it’s not fair to the idealistic bands that have no clue about the business really and will die like a fish without water. And, yeah, they do only release crap these days because they don’t care who give them the money.

In the early nineties when they were maybe the most interesting European label putting out stuff by bands like Oracle, Forté, Mystik, Ritual and Attika to name a few?

-Yeah, strange, isn´t it? Back then I bought every Massacre release because of their signing strategy. Nowadays I would not listen to any new Massacre signing out of free will.

When your collaboration with Massacre was over, did you talk to different labels?

-We waited way too long until we contacted some labels. Time’s going by so fast that you sometimes forget to push things. We even thought about releasing the album ourselves. But, giving it a second thought, we realized that we just don’t have the time to sell the stuff ourselves. We know that we’re not the flavor of the month nor of the year, so we didn´t expect too many good offers. And, as expected, the bigger labels all said no. Fine with me, we just wanted to test the water by asking them to see where we stand right now. Not that we would have said no to millions of dollars, haha.

So how did you end up on Cruz Del Sur?

-Enrico’s offer was extremely fair and his label has a good reputation amongst our friends and the bands we know since years. So, it was an obvious choice to go for that.

I have a label t-shirt at home that says “Weniger, aber besser”. I think many people associate Cruz Del Sur with quality before quantity. Was this one of the reasons why you choose Enrico and his label? What’s your fave band on this label?

– Matze, our drummer and manager, is a lawyer in the music business and he knows a good contract when he sees one. That was a very fine contract! We would have been mad to decline that. My favourite band one the label? Hmm, Slough Feg and While Heaven Wept were great, but they’ve now moved on to Metal Blade and Nuclear Blast respectively. Atlantean Kodex are very good even though I still have to listen to their latest album. I bought it when it came out, but still have not managed to give it a proper listen. I need more time!

The new album is produced, I believe by yourselves in cooperation with Bart Gabriel, a guy who seem to have a hand in with everything related to metal. He is a manager, a producer and also runs his own label. As you produced “Carnage Victory” on your own, why did you hook up with Bart this time, and what exactly has he brought to the table?

-Bart recommended the studio we recorded in and wanted to help us with the production. We never had “a producer” before so we gave it a try. Bart knows a lot about studio equipment and he helped me a lot with the vocals. He showed me some tricks that I still use when I sing live. I’m sometimes astonished too what this guy is always doing. Looks like he has 48 hours a day to work three jobs simultaneously at least, haha. Fascinating guy. Also pretty strict and like an army general if he wants to.

Earlier today I listened to “Hammer Of Destruction” and “Carnage Victory” two times each. By no means bad albums, but I have to say that they are the ones I like the least, and I am happy to say that I enjoy the new one a lot more. How do you view the two albums you have done with the “new” lineup in retrospect? Which of them do you prefer?

-“Hammer Of Destruction” was more of a second debut album. We nearly broke up before that album and we had to get the two new guys into the “band-system”. That wasn’t easy, but we managed to make a decent record. It’s not one of our stronger records, but it’s very spontaneous and it has some great songs on it. I love “Black Church”! The production sucks and I wish that we would have not recorded that thing with Harris Johns. He was a nice guy and back then I thought it was OK, but when I listen to it now, I’m shocked how much it sucks. I think we were the wrong band at the wrong time in the wrong studio. Harris can be a fantastic producer but somehow with us it just didn’t work. I don’t know why. “Carnage Victory” is way more mature and diverse compared to “Hammer Of Destruction”, just a bit too melodic in places for my taste. I like most of it still and there are some of the best SACRED STEEL-songs ever on that record. I´m also still happy with the production. We play lots of the songs live, and I hope that we’ll at least continue to play my absolute favourites “Broken Rites” and “Denial Of Judas”. I´d also love to play “Ceremonial Magician Of The Left Hand Path” live. We never did that, as far as I remember.

SacredSteel_schwarz300dpiTell me about the songwriting process this time. Is it mainly Jonas writing the music, with some contributions from Jens, and you doing the lyrics?

-Jens has written some songs but the major part was written by Jonas, indeed. He’s a classical trained guitarist and he’s playing guitar for a living so it’s easy for him to write a metal song, or ten. Jens has a very demanding job and not much time besides that. That may explain a bit why Jonas writes more. I write all the lyrics, that’s true. Most of the times, Jonas or Jens come up with three to five riffs and then we arrange the song structure in the rehearsal room.

How do you feel Jonas has grown as a song writer since he joined before “Hammer Of Destruction”?

-He had to realize that he’s the musical backbone of SACRED STEEL. So he had to grow as a writer. We all rely on him to come up with good ideas and we leave him room to try something new, if not too far out, here or there. That kinda encouraged him to write a bit more adventurous and not too much by the rules of the metal book. So, you sure can find “inspirations” by his favorite bands in some of our songs. If you should find a Morbid Angel- or Immolation riff, a solo that reminds of Forbidden or a song structure that you thought sounds a bit like Nevermore. …you´re right!

Do you feel he has grasped what SACRED STEEL is about?

-If he writes for us, he knows what he can do and what we won´t tolerate. We let him do his tricks sometimes and I think that gives the songs some extra flavor, but we won’t let him stray too much from the formula. Not that he would come up with a classical opera or something. He’s clever enough to know what works and what’s overdone.

While the music on albums like “Slaughter Prophecy” and “Iron Blessings” were quite dark and aggressive, so is the music on “The Bloodshed Summoning”, but in a different way, I would say. While those albums had small hints of death metal, it seems like you have tried to make the music a bit thrashier this time?

-Exactly! Thrashier and more aggressive! With “Slaughter Prophecy” and “Iron Blessings” we started to separate ourselves from the other bands still playing traditional metal only. We wanted to become a bit more adventurous and more unpredictable. This sure did cost us fame and fortune, but we kept our integrity and we managed to continue until now. I always tried to point out that real metal to me is everything from the slowest doom to the fastest black metal, as long as it’s played for the right reasons and with conviction. I’m listening to metal now since 32 years and I´m playing this music since 28 years so I can tell who´s a poser and who means it. At least most of the time. We started out as a tribute band to the glorious, early eighties but then realized that we had to expand our style a bit to keep it interesting for ourselves. The small hints of death metal have grown a bit bigger here or there on the new album and we even border on black metal lyrically or even musically with a song like “The Darkness Of Angels”. It’s nevertheless still 100 percent Sacred Steel. And it’s 100 percent pure metal.

If you were to choose one song off “The Bloodshed Summoning” that you feel represents what SACRED STEELis all about, which one would it be? Also, is there a song that you feel shows an unexpected and maybe new side of the band?

-I can’t pick out one song, because I don’t think that one song only can represent what we´re about. Closest to that ideal would be “Journey Into Purgatory” maybe. It’s the song with the most different parts and mood changes. But it lacks the death metal inspired parts…If a song like “Under The Banner Of Blasphemy” would be the middle part of “Journey Into Purgatory”, then that would be a song to define us. I guess. The title track would be the one I’d choose as the one that includes the surprises. There are some twists and turns and speed changes that we’ve never done before. It may not be a “new side of the band” totally but it’s close to being the one that expanded our limits the most.

Your vocals have always been a love/hate-affair, personally I enjoy them a lot, as you have voice with identity that stands out, but I know other people who think early SACRED STEEL is all right musically, but can’t handle the way your voice sounded back then. In my opinion your vocals on this new album sounds a bit different, more moderate maybe, but as I can’t really see you wanting to please those who didn’t enjoy your vocals in the past, there simply must be another reason.

-More moderate? Well, I honestly can’t say. I only tried my best to tell the stories of the lyrics with as much passion and conviction as possible. I’ve closed my eyes while singing and just listened to the voices in my head. Sometimes I was really surprised when we listened to the recordings in the control room because it sounded different in my head. I don’t plan things that much, I just follow my feelings. I don’t have a trained, or perfect, or beautiful voice. But it’s unique and has character. And I don’t try to sound like anybody else anymore. I know that I’m not a good singer in the meaning of the word “good”. I don’t even label myself as a singer. I’m just a devoted metal fan that ended up singing in a band. Strange games life plays sometimes. I can’t listen to our first album because I can’t stand the vocals either! But back then it felt right, and back then I thought it was brilliant. I’ve gotten better and I have more control over my voice now. Nevertheless it’s a matter of taste. But everything is. Nobody is forced to listen to SACRED STEEL. There are tons of other bands out there. Listen to something else if you don´t like it.

I’ve told you a couple of times that my fave SACRED STEEL-album is still the first one, and your reaction is always something like: “Oh, no!” It almost feels like you are a little bit ashamed of this album?

-I have changed a lot as a person over the course of the past 15 to 20 years. Looking back I sometimes feel strange seeing what I thought was great in those days. And, yes, our first album belongs to the stuff that makes me doubt myself. I think that the guitars and the drums rule on that record, but the vocals ruin it! The singing really is very bad on that record and I wonder why I did it that way. But, there are lots of people that I know since long that truly love my vocals on this album and they don’t understand that I don’t like it anymore. To say it in a different way: I’m not ashamed of the album. Not at all. I just feel a bit uncomfortable because I can’t listen to it without feeling bad. I just can’t enjoy it, but I also don’t want to disappoint people who love the record as it is and see me talking shit about it. I’m just honest.

Also, what is your favorite SACRED STEEL-song, and is there one that you regret recording and putting out?

-My all time fave song? Tough question! Maybe “Open Wide The Gate”? That’s a standout track where I think everything is top notch. I even think that the lyrics are great. And normally I don’t find it easy to say something good about my lyrics, though I think that some of them are head and shoulders above many other bands. I don’t regret putting anything out. You can’t change history. And it’s all been done for a reason. Of course I would love to be proud of my vocals on the first record, but if the vocals were different, then it would not be the same record anymore. And that would be sad for many people who love it. So: No regrets!

While you still have the odd song dealing with what seems like standard metal clichés, like for instance “Metal Underground” from “Carnage Victory” or “Impaled By Metal” from “Hammer Of Destruction”, it seems like you had more of those on earlier albums. Instead, religion is often used as a theme in your lyrics, what is it about religions that make them well suited for your lyrics?

-In the old days, posers enraged me! In the nineties there was nothing worse than seeing all my old heroes like Rob Halford or Bruce Dickinson whimping out and trying strange sounds, rhythms and straying from the metal path. Dickinson was back on track pretty soon, while Halford took a bit longer. Even Metallica sometimes realized that “Load” and “Re-Load” were just a load of shit. So it all turned for the better again and I´m not mad at any ex-metal people or posers in general anymore. I’ve grown up a bit, haha. But religion still enrages me! It´s fiction put over reason! It´s madness put over facts! It´s stupidity put over free thinking! It´s terror in the disguise of love! I fuckin’ hate religion! That’s why it’s good to be used in metal lyrics. Metal is great to speak out the truth. Sometimes overdone, sometimes ironic, sometimes unfair. But, hey, that’s allowed. We’re not living in a world of faith exclusively anymore and atheists like me can speak freely without being tortured to death. Much appreciated!

You have been involved in both Dawn Of Winter and Angel Of Damnation in addition to SACRED STEEL of course. At the moment there are also some rumors circulating that you’re also the new singer of Battleroar. First, if the latest is true, how did you get this job? Is it on a permanent basis, or will you just fill in for shows for a limited time?

-I filled in for one live show. I had my doubts because I thought that I couldn’t do it really. The music is pretty intricate, the lyrics are pretty long and strange in places and the vocal lines are also different to what I do normally. But it was a challenge and I wanted to do my old friend Kostas a favor helping out. That show went extremely well, I couldn’t believe it! The response was fantastic and everybody encouraged me to continue. The band was trying to talk me into continuing as well. I told them that I have a busy schedule and that I can’t add all their plans to my schedule, too. But they insisted and I gave it a second and a third thought and then I agreed on trying to be their permanent singer as long as it’s feasible. I’ll do whatever I can do for them. They’re just fantastic persons and I’ve grown to really, really like some Battleroar songs very much now. We’ve started writing songs for the next album and I’m looking forward to work with them as long as possible.

What is the status of Dawn Of Winter and Angel Of Damnation at the moment?

-Dawn Of Winter have just put out a 4-track vinyl only release called “The Skull Of The Sorcerer”. We plan to start rehearsing again soon to work on new songs. I have no idea though when we’ll record the next songs for any release. We’ll play live with Angel Of Damnation for the first time this year, at a festival in Denmark together with the mighty Hobbs’ Angel Of Death and Mortuary Drape and countless other cool bands. I can’t say when we´ll do another Angel Of Damnation-record. I’d love to do one. I like the first record a lot even though the playing really is totally sloppy.

Are you involved in other bands/projects as well?

-Let me think…I have recorded some songs with a project called Throne Of Isolation, it’s on YouTube. Apart from that I’m “only in SACRED STEEL, Dawn Of Winter, Angel Of Damnation & Battleroar. That´s enough for now, I guess.

Thanks for the time you invested in answering these questions. It’s appreciated!

-Thank you for this massive feature and the interesting questions! See you at the Keep It True, Leif!

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