SCANNER: The golden era

  Scanner 3 Some things simply have to be done.  You need to get them out of your system, out of your thoughts, or else you simply can not move on. In my life, a lot of these things are related to heavy metal. For instance, I would have loved to spend a couple of hours with Rolf Kasparek of Running Wild, talking only about the time from when the band was formed until the release of their last great album, “Black Hand Inn”.  Another German band, SCANNER from Gelsenkirchen also played a huge part in my life when I was a teenager.  I still remember,  when I opened the “Hypertrace”-cassette, just to get bitterly disappointed when I turned the cover and looked at the white paper on the inside. No band picture, no lyrics, no nothing.  When I heard the music for the first time though, I simply forgot about those things, the songs were pure perfection. I also still can recall exactly in which parts of which songs my vinyl version of the follow up album “Terminal Earth” skips.  It also occurs to me how fucking frustrated I was when I searched all kinds of sources for news about the band after  it suddenly got very silent around them in the wake of “Terminal Earth.  It took me ages to realize that SCANNER was on hiatus (they never split up). At last, guitarist Axel Julius reignited the band some years later, but that’s a completely different story.  Later this month, Divebomb Records is rereleasing these two milestones of fast and melodic heavy metal, and when the news reached me, I knew it was about time to catch up with original member Julius to do this long overdue in-depth feature on one of the most underrated acts of the eighties and early nineties. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it just as much as I did when I researched, conducted and wrote this piece. It certainly brought back some very strong memories.

Hello Axel! Cool to be able to talk to you, and thank you for your willingness to do this extensive feature. What do you feel about the two first SCANNER-records being rereleased?

– It’s quite cool to have albums that are rereleased from time to time, I think. It shows  that those albums might be worth listening to again.

Divebomb asked you to do liner notes for the rereleases. Was this a difficult task for you?

– No, it wasn’t. It was like doing an ordinary interview.  An American guy did the questions, and I just tried to answer them as I do with a normal interview. Some of them were a bit hard to answer, cause you need to remember that the albums were released more than 20 years ago, but when you move into it and try to think about it, one thing takes another and you remember most of the things that happened back then.

When I was looking for some visual material to go with this story, Matt at Divebomb told me no photos in addition to the one used in the cover for “Hypertrace” and “Terminal Earth”exist. I was kind of surprised to hear that…

– Our manager at the time, was very angry when he quit, and simply destroyed our archive.  A bit later, when I asked to have everything back, he told me had burnt everything. I trusted him so much, so I let he take care of everything I had collected. There is no original stuff left, only articles from papers and magazine.  This must have happened in late 1990 or early 1991, I think.  I don’t want to mention his name, because he is a friend nowadays, but everyone who knew the band back then, know which guy I am talking about.

That’s terrible to hear.

– Yeah, but he was young and I trusted him. Sometimes you make mistakes in your life.  He admits now that it was a stupid thing to do.

If I remember right, you had a band even before Lion’s Breed. Did you play with Thomas Sopha and Martin Bork, both later to be found in SCANNER, already in this band? 

– Yes, and the band was Reinforce, our class band. Michael Ecker, who later became the drummer in Lion’s Breed, was in there, too. We started playing songs by all these old bands that we liked: UFO, Scorpions, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, something by Pink Floyd and Status QuoThe only difference compared to Lion’s Breed was the singer. The singer was from another class. When we did our first demo, the name was changed into Lion’s Breed. The singer, Ulrich Rohmann came from a band called Challenger.

The thanks list of “Terminal Earth” says: “Martin, Tom S and Axel like to thank their teacher Erich Miedza for introducing them to the world of music 12 years ago by having to pull the piano to the stage during the lessons”. Did all of you take piano lessons, or was this in school?

– As I mentioned, me, Martin and Tom S all went to the same class. We’re referring to a joke by our teacher asking in a lesson who thought he had a talent in music. Because all of us thought we had, he told us to pull the piano on the stage for him. We have never had piano lessons, but I think we were around 15 years old when we started playing our respective instruments.

When exactly did Lion’s Breed become SCANNER?  While the three of you continued in SCANNER, you added a new bass player, Wolfgang Kolorz and a new singer Michael Knoblich. Do you see SCANNER as a continuation of Lion’s Breed, or was it important for you to mark the start of a new band?

– We added a new drummer with Wolgang Kolorz because Michael Ecker quit. It was in 1986, I think. We were determined to form a new band with a new start and a new concept. We also wanted to separate from our former record company, Eartshaker  Records.  The owner was going bankrupt and some new guys who we didn’t want to work with joined the company.

I dug the Lion’s Breed-album out of my collection yesterday to give it a spin. It not a bad album by any means, but I have to say it’s quite different from the stuff three of you later did as SCANNER?

–  Yes, of course. We wanted to change our style at this time. With Uli it was more in the vein of the stuff we listened to before, a bit influenced by Rainbow somehow. We wanted to change the style and do harder music, but Uli wasn’t keen on that and told us he wanted to quit the band. We told him we wanted to find a new singer, and this marked a new start for the band with new songs in a new style, sung by a new singer.

Do you remember where you did the first concert as SCANNER?

– I think it was in Essen , Zeche Carl.  I can remember that some good friends came after the show to tell us that they got goosebumps during the concert, because they saw us for the first time after having just listened to the album before.  I can’t really remember which song we opened with that night, but it must have been a fast one.  Perhaps “Warp 7”.  By the way, we wore our outfits (seen in the bandpicture on “Hypertrace”, ed.) on stage for a long time. You could really smell that. Haha!

During this concert, did you perform Lion’s Breed-material as well or only brand new SCANNER-songs?

– Just new songs. We made a very clear distinction between the two bands. We didn’t want to have anything to do with Lion’s Breed anymore. We just told people that we were a brand new band, and then of course if someone knew about the links to Lion’s Breed, we had to talk about it, but normally we presented ourselves as new band.

Did you have the science fiction concept ready when you formed SCANNER, or was this something that you developed after a while?

– When Michael Knoblich joined the band, the first thing we did was to delevop the concept.  He was a fan of science fiction, while I, at the time was studying astronomy and physics. He kind of hooked me on the idea of doing something related to science fiction. Mostly he and I worked on the story, but if the others didn’t like anything that we suggested, we worked on it together, because we wanted to satisfy everyone in the band. In the beginning, the concept was mean, or evil, but everybody in the band wanted to change it into something positive.  We then had to discuss it with Michael, who was a bit unwilling to do it, and didn’t think sunshine and happiness fit the concept, but in the end he changed it.

For those who are unfamiliar with this masterpiece, her is what Wikipedia says about the concept of the album: “During WWII the military ordered the formation of a commando troop out of seven convicts. With scientific help these seven were trained and genetically manipulated to become a super combat unit. The mutant soldiers went berserk, and directed all their strength and superior skills against their commanders. The rebels had to be annihilated (“Grapes of Fear”), so they were shot into space, and their rockets exploded, except one (“Locked Out”), which was found by aliens (“Wizard Force”). The aliens taught the mutant survivor to bring peace to the world (“Retaliation Positive”)”

How did you get the recording contract with Noise? As far as I know, you never did a demo. Did you get the contract based on what you achieved as Lion’s Breed or on the back of some blistering live performances?

– We did a demo for Earthshaker Records for the second album with them, but the company got bankrupt. So we played this demo to producer Frank Bornemannn and he made the contact to Noise Records for us. The recording consisted of demo versions of “Galactos” and “Warp 7”.  The third song I can’t remember, but it was one of the songs that later ended up on “Hypertrace”. We told Alex Thubeauville, the owner of Earthshaker, that we wanted to change and not have Uli as the singer anymore. He told us to make a demo for him so he could hear what we were imagining. We did and presented him for Michael, our new singer. But then the label went bankrupt.

The song “Galactos” was used as a Japanese bonus track, and also featured on the first volume of the Noise Records sampler series, called “Doomsday News”. It’s recorded in the Horus sound studio as the rest of the material, but was it in a different session than the album?  As there are no other non-album tracks on the rerelease, I guess you didn’t record anything else during this session?

– Yes, it was a different session. We recorded the song with Tommy Hansen three months before we went into the studio to do “Hypertrace”. What happened was, the record company told us that we had to record one song as a preview of the forthcoming album, and that it would be released on a compilation called “Doomsday News”.  We said “OK”, we have our studio dates in February-March, but they told us they needed this song recorded with Frank Bornemann earlier. It was short before Christmas when we went in to record “Galactos”, I guess it was the beginning of December. When we came to the Horus sound, only Tommy Hansen was there. I think he had just finished recording another band, and really wanted to go home. Nevertheless, he was asked to stay to oversee this recording. He was kind of pissed off. Of course we started to think things like: “He doesn’t like us, he doesn’t like our songs”, and stuff like that.  This made us very unsure about working with him. There was a lot of time pressure and the mix was done in a hurry. In the end we didn’t like it so much, the sound wasn’t clear and crispy enough.  “Galactos” was the only song recorded during this session.

Scanner 1The CD-version had an extra song compared to the vinyl and cassette – namely “Wizard Force”. As far as I understand both “Galactos” and “Wizard Force” were parts of the concept of “Hypertrace”. Did you feel comfortable releasing the LP without them?

No , not really.   It was the decision of our producer Frank Bornemannn.  He had the opinion that “Galactos” would not fit with the rest of the album, because of the circumstances it was recorded under and the problems with the mix. It would sound too different since another engineer had recorded that, and secondly he thought for vinyl you have to have two sides with a balanced song selection.  And at last both sides should not last for more than 20 minutes because of sound matters. So “Wizard Force” was dropped as well.

Where did you find your singer Michael Knoblich? What do you think about his vocals on “Hypertrace”? In my opinion, his trademark voice on this recording is one of the things that make this album really special.

– We found him through an announcement in a local newspaper. It was a section where you could put an add if you were looking for something for your car, or if you like us, were looking for a musician. I remember I was a little skeptical when I first met him, since I had never heard of him before.  He said he wasn’t in a band, but I liked the fact that he was very funny and laughed at the same jokes as me. He was also very sympathetic at the time.  We tried to find out what he had done before, since we guessed he must have been in some kind of band, but at last he convinced us he could sing. He came to a rehearsal and impressed. Michael had a special tone, matter of taste somehow, but… a “love it or hate it” thing.  I loved it!

On “Hypertrace” you worked with producer Frank Bornemannn. Was he your own choice, or someone that the label suggested?

– We found Frank by ourselves so he was our own choice. When he liked our music we decided to work together. He was a very okay guy to work with. We were relatively young and unexperienced, and he helped us a lot with the arrangements. He suggested a lot of things like: Think about that part, do you want this part at this place? Please drop this part. You are using way too much distortion. It was good working with him. He also made us think about everything we did, and pretty much talked us into trying the big choirs. What do you think about these choirs? he said.  Do you want these big choirs? We were a bit afraid that it wouldn’t work when we were gonna perform the songs live, but he told us to not think about that until we had finished the recording. You can always practice them and see if they work or not when you’re going on tour. We thought that was a funny way of looking at it, since we were a bit anxious about being able to reproduce them.

Ralf Scheepers is singing backing vocals on “Hypertrace”. I think you also considered him as a vocalist for SCANNER on several occasions?

– Michael got ill some months before the studio date. He went to the doctor and was diagnosed with swellings on his voice cords and was not allowed to speak for exactly two weeks. I mean no word, nada, niente, nothing.  The doctor even told him that if he spoke, he could risk losing his voice forever.  Nobody knew if what possible for him to sing on the album. He used small pieces of paper to communicate. Frank did not know if he would be able to sing the album and he hired Ralf as a backup. It was only our producer who knew Ralf from before. The producer had to make sure we could finish the recording of the album. He knew Ralf had no band at that time. If Michael had not made it, Ralf had been the singer of SCANNER. It’ as simple as that, he searched for a new band anyway.  But Michael could sing, and Ralf was a bit irritated, but he supported Michael mentally and sung a lot of choirs and guide lines. We explained every song to him, and every single one was recorded. He had to sing the melody as a guide line. If Michael’s voice wasn’t perfect, we could tell him to listen to what Ralph had done. It was meant as a help to Michael, but in the end Ralf was a little pissed off, cause his help was not really needed. Frank told him to stay in studio, cause he wanted some really good background singers.

In reviews at the time, the album was often referred to as Accept meets Helloween. Were you influenced by these bands at the time?

– Our main influences came from Judas Priest,  Iron Maiden, Rainbow, UFO, Scorpions, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith (the very early ones) and some more bands like this but we listened also to those bands you mention.

What are your thoughts on “Hypertrace” today? What will you say are the albums strength and weaknesses? Which are your favourite songs?

– I cannot and do not want to judge this album in that way. It has its own character and his right to exist for sure like it is. I still listen to the album though. When the thought of rereleasing the album came up, I started listening to it thinking about a remastring  job, but then the record label told me it had already be remastered, so I didn’t have to think about that anymore.  We still perform three or four songs from the album everytime we play live, “Warp 7”, “Across The Universe”, “R.M.U.” and “Therion”. The first three are also my favourites from this album. What’s to judge about “Hypertrace”, is what the record company made out of it and of the band, or better said did not make of it. Sometimes jewels are thrown away by stupid people, and found again by someone who cares and cherishes. The problems with Noise were the main reason why we lost Michael as a singer. When we recorded “Hypertrace”, the plan was to release “Across The Universe” as a single, accompanied by a video. Noise said, we’ll see with the video, and at last they told us that we had to wait for the second album to record one. Michael got very pissed off, and said that he didn’t want to work with people he called assholes and liars. I told him that we had a second album to do with Noise Records, and we discussed it, but he was really angry and left the band.

And there were no doubt in your mind that you really wanted him to be the singer on your second album as well?

– No, of course not. We wanted a steady going band, and least of all a break.

Even though he was obviously pissed off with Noise, were you still friends with him when he left SCANNER?

– No, as I said, we had a big discussion, lasting for two hours. I tried to convince him to stay in the band and do the second album, but he said he didn’t want to. Then he went out of the door, never to be seen again. Maybe five years later, we were at the same party, but we didn’t speak one single word.

Scanner 4Time to move on to the second album, “Terminal Earth. Gone were pretty much all of the masculine Accept-moments, and this album was overall considerably more polished and melodic than the debut, mainly due to the inclusion of new singer, S.L. Coe. Did you know him from before?

–  I knew he had been in the band Angel Dust, but I only knew his voice. He was recommended to me by Frank Bornemannn as Germany’s most talented heavy metal singer.  Frank also told me that he had no band at the time, since he was out of Angel Dust.  S.L. Coe was a very good singer on one hand and on the other hand he was like Mr. Hyde.  He could change his personality from one moment to the other. Again, this is something from the past. People change, and nowadays I have contact with him on Facebook, and he has changed.  He even excuses himself for his behavior nowadays.

What was wrong with the way he acted? Did he try to take control of the band?

– When I drove to his place and asked him if he wanted to join SCANNER, he told me that there was one thing I should know. What’s that, I asked? I’m an asshole, he said. Okay, you are an asshole, but so am I, I replied. He also said something like: I am sure you want to do your stuff, but I would like to do mine as well.  Later on he really wasn’t on the same wavelength as the rest of us. During concerts he refused to use the outfit, and he didn’t want to express the same opinion as the rest of the band. He always wanted to be in control. We had already finished most of the material for the second album when he joined, but he wanted to change all the melody lines. After having done so, at the end nobody was happy, just S.L. Coe himself.

While you were involved in the song writing of all tracks on “Hypertrace”, there are some songs on “Terminal Earth” that you aren’t credited for. At the same time S. L. Coe immediately was involved in the songwriting.

– In reality, S.L. Coe disturbed my songwriting a lot, and I decided to retire quite a bit and let him sing what he preferred, to satisfy him as a singer in our band. The other members felt more and more uncomfortable about that. Plus he came up with the song “From the Dust…” prepared and nearly pre-produced. My thought was that this song was already made within his time in ANGEL  DUST. He made us feel like a cover band with this song. I always hated it for this reason.

You used Frank Bornemannn  again, but this time a different studio, called Sky Track in Berlin. Were you not completely satisfied with Horus?

– No, the reason was Kai Hansen was recording an album in Horus that time parallel.  The fact that we had to use Sky Track affected the album big time.  The Horus studio was the studio of Frank, our producer, and it was a pity that he couldn’t record in his own studio. The sounds were completely different. I really have a hard time trying to explain it, but a producer working in his own studio knows exactly what he is doing.

You did a video for the song “Buy Or Die” which I remember seeing at “Headbangers Ball” a couple of times. What do you remember from the recordings of this video? One thing I can say for certain, is that the budget wasn’t the highest.

– Yes, it was so shitty, but shown a lot on German television. In fact, it was everywhere. It was a really cheap production, and funny in a way, but the guys we worked with didn’t have any experience doing video. They were from the East German UFA movie company, and it was one of their first modern music video after the fall of the wall. The had some nice equipment, and were nice people, but not really informed how to produce a heavy metal video. The best things were the tits of the girl in the supermarket.  But this scene was cut out for MTV USA finally.

Also on this album, two songs  (“Telemania” and “L.A.D.Y.”) were used as bonus songs for the CD-version.  As I don’t think “Terminal Earth” is a concept album, did you feel that these were weaker than the rest of material, or is there another reason why they’re not on the LP?

– It was the same reason as for “Hypertrace”, there was just room for 20 minutes on each side of the vinyl.

Scanner 2What are your thoughts on “Terminal Earth” today? Which are your favourite songs?

– It is definitely not my favorite SCANNER album, although it features a damn good singer.  My favourites are “Not Alone” and “Wonder”, which we still play live and “Buy Or Die” of course.  I like these songs a lot, but I have so many bad memories connected to this album. When I hear SL Coe’s voice, everything is coming back to me. I don’t really listen to it anymore.

I have to admit I love “Terminal Earth” almost as much as the debut. Okay, so it is a little more polished, and some of the uniqueness got lost when the band changed singers, but songs like “The Law”, “Not Alone”, the title track and “Challenge” are all killers of the kind that you seldom hear anymore on new albums. But one thing we probably can agree on, is that we’re talking about two quite different products?

– At first, when the songs were done, the melodies were different, more similar to the style we had when Michael sang. Then S.L. Coe entered and said: I won’t sing like this. It was a style break, and everybody weren’t happy with it. Different vocal melodies lead the songs in totally different directions.  We prepared the songs with Michael and we wanted to complete the album with Michael, but when S.L. Coe then entered and said: I won’t sing anything the way he sings it, we looked at each other and knew we had a problem.  Demos of Michael singing this material should exist, but I don’t have them. To be more precise, I know they exist, because I made those demos with Michael, and sent them to Frank so that he could listen to what we were doing. I don’t have a cassette player anymore, and never transferred them to digital media. So they’re probably gone forever.

Do you know how many copies you managed to sell of each of your first two albums?

– In Europe we sold around 50 000 of the first and about the same of the second. Personally, we were not satisfied, as the sales should have been higher, but Noise Records seemed happy with what they managed to sell.

When the album was released, I had simply no idea about the internal struggles in the band. After “Terminal Earth”, I waited and waited for news of another album. Since this was long before the internet, and German magazines were not available here, I didn’t know what was happening. I even remember almost buying some releases by another artist called SCANNER which I saw in a mailorder catalogue.

– Unfortunately, there is a crazy guy out there calling his project SCANNER as well and he is recording noises, a special tone art, I think…our lawyers told him to mark his releases and appearances very different from ours to avoid confusion. But he does not. For me he is ignorant and a freak, knowing we were there long before him.

After a while, and we’re talking about years here, I finally heard that you had fired S.L.Coe…

– Yes, S.L. Coe was fired. This must have been around 1992/93. As I mentioned before, he had a special personal side coming up sometime when he handled people around him. He tormented the secretaries of Noise Records on the phone in such a manner that Karl U. Walterbach called me to tell me that I didn’t have a singer anymore, because this guy would never ever have a release through his company for all eternity. I fired your singer, find a new one, he told me.  In some case S.L.Coe might have been right with his claims against Noise Records, concerning payments, promises, etcetera, quite similar to what caused Michael’s disappearance before, but you should always keep a balance when you speak, and not abuse and disrespect your counterpart at the other end of the line. One week later, I asked Karl to release meof my contract with Noise Records as well, because I would like to keep S.L. Coe in the band to finish the next album. So we lost our deal and kept a singer with issues. At the end it was a bad choice for us, because a few months later the controversy with S.L.Coe within the band became overwhelming and he was fired by ourselves. It took us two years to find a new singer.

What kind of relationship did you have to Karl U. Walterbach? I’ve heard several stories about him, not only good ones?

– Well, Karl sometimes forgot to pay you all what you had earned, and that happened to nearly every band of his company. So he is a millionaire now, but we are still happy musicians. Of course we got some money from the sales, but not what he had to pay. You can’t really call him a betrayer, but if you like your artist, you should pay your artists. But I think he saw his bands more like a way to earn money.

SCANNER returned to the scene with the release of “Mental Reservation” on Massacre Records in 1995, and later “Ball Of The Damned” (1997) and “Scantropolis” (2002). Have you had offers of doing a one-off reunion festival show with the original lineup?

– No, there were no offers in that way. The band always was and still is in business with the current line up, so there is no need for that, I think.

I would travel to Germany to see the band in the original line up, no doubt about that. 

– Okay, but that will never happen.

Are you sure?

– Yes, because from the original lineup, Thomas totally stopped playing guitar and Martin stopped playing bass, so there is no chance for us do something like that.

Will the world ever see a new SCANNER-album? As far as I know, it’s been in the works for a while now?

– Yes, we had a few problems to solve. Our production data got killed by a virus and we had to start nearly from the beginning. But we are recording our new album right now.  The working title is “Judgement of Religion”. We will be finishing it soon for a release around  summer this year. It will be killer. I’m sure! Very sure!

Hopefully it will be nothing like the last album, “Scantropolis” which I don’t like at all.  

– It will definitely not be like that album. Maybe you could call it back to roots, and it has nothing to do with our last album. It will be a great album. Massacre Records is still my first choice to release the new album, but you never know how things develop. I guess chances are 50/50 that the album will end up being released by Massacre Records.  I like this company.

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