German heavy metallers Scanner are back with their first album in over a decade. So what can we expect? Well, I sat down with the band’s guitarist and only remaining original member Axel Julius as he discussed the period of the band’s absence and their decision to reform; as well as the album’s lyrical matter, his thoughts on album downloads and new technologies. He also threw in a tour story, just for good measure.
The Judgement is your first album in nearly thirteen years. That’s a little more than a decade. How did it come about to resurrect the project and get this album off the ground?
It was not as if we had walked through the valley of frustrations, I mean we had a lot of fun meanwhile. The band had found new endeavors, so to speak, but this does not mean that we had split up in the meantime. So it was no resurrection at all. But after it was clear that we would no longer continue with the former line-up of Scantropolis we were again looking for a singer. Also, we came back to concentrate more on the traditional strengths of Scanner to distinguish ourselves from the concept of Scantropolis completely.
With Efthi (new singer who debuted in 2003) having been faithful to us until today, we played our shows from 2003 on and the poor man had the almost impossible task of having to interpret four Scanner singers from our recent five albums in addition to Ralph Scheepers (Primal Fear) who appeared as guest singer on “Ball of the Damned”. Not an easy task, especially since one was a woman’s voice. But anyway our first effort was not to run into the studio to record our next album, but to play live primarily. I mean we had a repertoire that could be put together out of five albums and we have always been able to deliver an entertaining show of Scanner classics from the band’s history. But the point is that the requests for a new album became naturally louder after some time during the gigs and then you could not you tell the people that you do not intend to make a new album, but promise that a new one will be coming soon. Then when you are playing for the second time at the same place for nearly the same people and the new album was not done in the meantime, things get tight and somewhat embarrassing, so we had to do something. It is then that you know as a band, that the time has come to finally make an album. After our show in Moscow in November, we locked ourselves in the studio and finished the record.
For those who still remember your last album Scantropolis which was recorded back in ’02, what new surprises can be expected from this record?
We attempted to receive and revive the sound and the spirit of our releases of the 80’s and 90’s and were guided by our old stuff from this time. Therefore the album sounds like old school metal by default. Our fans will definitely get the intense and passionate Scanner album that they were waiting for a long time after our former release. There are even some voices out there saying that it is our best album so far. Definitely The Judgement stands nearer to our first releases than to Scantropolis. We put a lot of passion and energy in there and think and hope that fans will feel that too. We are sure that they will return some of that spirit and energy back to us during the live shows and with all their other feedback on Facebook, our webpage and other avenues. There’s nothing that we would enjoy more than that, so we really hope that we can bring some fun to the fans with this album.
Tell me about the writing and recording process for The Judgement. How far back do some of these ideas for the riffs on this album go? Where did you record the record and how long did that take? What was the atmosphere like in the studio?
Most of the songs were composed shortly before the recordings. We have had some elder songs and ideas as well to choose for the album but at one point we lost the passion for them. I mean, we lost the relation to this stuff and decided better to drop it. “The Legionary” is the oldest song that we had already produced and published as a demo around 2007. So fans are advised to definitely not miss this song on the album. It was the first time that we could pre-produce, record and mix the entire album in our own brand new studio and you can say this was a bit more than the direct approach than we had with the other albums. We could determine all the time schedules by ourselves and were totally independent. This has advantages. However, it can also tempt you to stretch the periods, which you must counteract with discipline. Let’s put it this way: For The Judgement we have cut off from the outside world and did exactly our thing. The atmosphere was always relaxed and we did not worry so much about how it had to sound like in today’s scene and what was modern. This was our main approach with the album, which was one-hundred percent Scanner. Immediately after our show in Moscow in November 2013, we started the process and finished the album in the end of August 2014.
Technology has actually made some very interesting leaps in the last ten years since your previous record. What did you find that you could do differently in the studio or in terms of mastering that you couldn’t do a decade ago?
Yes, technology is progressing fast and the best thing about it is that recording is easier and for example your PC can handle much more stuff and it’s also much faster. I see this as the main advantage. But honestly spoken I’m a fan of the old analog sounds and equipment. I prefer to touch things and not to click on buttons in graphics. I’m also just using the hard disk recording to avoid “high- maintenance” and slow tape machines while almost all of the peripheral stuff is real and analog still. I’m half of Lenny Kravitz in these matters who is totally into the vintage stuff as far as I know. I think the present development is partly strange, especially when people have become accustomed to tinny-sounding MP3s and ultra–highly compressed productions. They don’t even know what good analog sounds like anymore. But there is also a counter-movement, especially in the metal scene here in Europe where more and more fans want vinyl LPs from their favorite bands. Even if the handling is more complicated, the sound and the large cover image can make up for it too. You do not have to join all the new developments anyway. In addition, I also believe that the metal fan knows to appreciate a good cover and booklet or a good sounding album. All this cannot be provided by a sterile downloaded MP3 song. Therefore, metal fans are ticking kind of different from the mainstream.
But technology has also opened up several grey areas in the form of file-sharing and album downloading. Some say that these downloaders do eventually buy the record if they like it, but what are your thoughts on it as you’ve been around since the days of tape trading? Would you compare it to that or say it’s a different subject altogether?
The market has changed completely and it went from bad to worse for record companies and the artists. Most companies are not willing to invest in good productions anymore for smaller and newcomer acts and an artist would never be able to survive after doing his job. You find that proven when even stars like Madonna are already complaining about a nosedive. I think most metal fans check their desire for a must have by a grey download. If they really like it, then they buy the album and this is maybe different compared to one hit wonders in the pop music business when you are not interested in buying the whole album at all. Today the record companies and portals like iTunes offer an incredible seven cent payment for a legal download. With this bargain no artist can tape, record and distribute his music. That was also the reason that nothing could draw us back into this spiral for a while. The record industry had just slept through a development and was just whining on about illegal downloads and other things instead of bringing their own concepts to life. Many bands have even bought themselves into the promotion and distribution channels of record companies with despair to have a chance to release a promoted album at all. If you want to make sure to get your first album done and want to present it to the world, then you’ve still got all this enthusiasm against all odds and maybe you are ready for anything. But something like this was out of question for us. All in all I would say that a promising band sells only something around the fifth part of its former sales in the past and each fan could waste a thought about how downloaders change the entire market.
Many of the lyrical topics on this record are based in science fiction, but what are some things that inspire your lyrics? Are there any real life topics that have inspired some or many of the songs on this record?
Yes, of course. But there are not a lot of science-fiction based songs on the album this time. Just the song “Eutopia” is about a seemingly time travelling guy with visions of a land called Eutopia. This idea came up after the Lehmann Bank induced financial crisis brought major problems to some countries here in Europe and the idea of a United Europe has threatened to fail more and more. So the United Europe is kind of a Utopia. This brought me to EUTOPIA. The guy in the song is not a time voyager at all really and finally the story reveals that he is on drugs. So his stories were a flight of fancy like some of the ideas of our politicians here in Europe are as well.
Also the whole concept and especially the cover concept of the album were inspired by real life. Basically The Judgement means doomsday for us. And in abstraction to this fundamental Christian belief, the Scanner returns back to earth on that very day and witnesses what’s going on. Does evil triumph over good finally? And what will the future bring? Thus brought us to religion and to the question over what relevance it has in today’s societies. So we detail songs about different groups in our society (Pirates, The Legionary, Warlord, FTB) all of their own religion and values throughout. An alarming thing for us is that almost all people who rely on religion most intensively are directly related to violence also, especially when it comes to conflicts. One can see that especially in the extremes of Syria and Iraq with ISIL, but also in the Near East region and fatefully ignored in Nigeria with the Boko Haram warriors of Africa. Genocide threatens to happen there again as the one in Ruanda, which is what our song “Warlord” deals with. Let’s not forget the Spanish Inquisition or the Crusades of the Dark Age. So the question may arise as to what religion actually contributes to peace in general. Or, the far more provoking; “Is religion the root of all evil perhaps?”
The exciting question is; “If there was no religion and man would not believe in a higher power, than would the human race live more peaceful than in all the millennia with religion?” Some songs on the album deal with the fact that something is going fatally wrong on the planet in terms of our ethical value system and that runs up through all religions and societies. But today, it is really getting worse. Honestly spoken it is unworthy for a highly developed and technologized human race of the third millennium. That’s really something to think about, which is what we did.
Here’s an interesting thought. Since an entire decade has passed between your previous album and this one, what kind of person would you say you are now? How do you feel you’ve changed in the last ten years? What is something you’ve learned in that time?
It is almost time for my daughter to join this planet now, so this had a special effect on me (smiles) and has changed my life so much from one day to the other. Besides having responsibilities as parents it brings you to another perspective in life also. I recognized that we will not bequeath much after our departure but some of our hopes, spirits, and experiences might live further on in our children and their children perhaps. So the most important thing for us should be to care about the education of our offspring. One decade ago I did not care about or did not think about the possibility that a crowd of morons and idiots could dominate this planet once just by procreating themselves more and faster than the others. So this is what I have learned definitely.
Let’s talk about influences past and present. What are some of the records that inspired you back in the day, and what are some newer recordings that you think inspired you today? Would you say that you’re a vinyl or a CD or an MP3 kind of person?
Honestly spoken there is not so much of a difference in what inspired me back in the day and today. Many of my early idols are still present like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and they did not lose anything of their charisma, something that is missing with many new bands and artists. Young artists of today are often wearing themselves down in many different projects instead standing for one band and one idea. But this correlates also with the crisis of the whole business and how a single musician can survive at all. Dream Theater was an inspiration to me also during the past twenty years and the last young band that inspired me was Killswitch Engage. I also like the power of “little Canadian guy” Jeff Waters and his band Annihilator. So I’m old fashioned maybe. Concerning consuming music, I just go with the CD mainly and just use high quality MP3’s on my small player on the road and in bed.
Finally, what are some of the best and worst tour moments you’ve ever had? Have you had the chance to play with any of your influences, and what was it like meeting them for the first time? Additionally, what do you guys do for fun on the road?
Unfortunately we have never been lucky enough to play with any of our aforementioned heroes so far. We met Jeff Waters in Bochum in Germany during one of his workshops to say hello. He is a nice fellow and great guitar player and it is a lot of fun to listen to his stories. On the road we do sightseeing whenever there is an opportunity and rewarding objects. We took a walk around Athens, Greece a few years ago and although we did not have much time, we decided to join the Temples of Acropolis in the evening just a few hours before our gig in Athens. When we arrived at the historic hill suddenly everything was cordoned off by police and the Olympic torch was brought back by a runner from the Winter Games. We did not know about this event taking place that day and were trapped so to say. After the proceedings were finished we were in a total hurry to get a taxi and we had to find two of those because there were five of us in the band. Unfortunately the driver of our taxi did not speak English at all, so he did not understand where to drive us to. After tons of gestures and dozens of google maps with my mobile phone he brought us to the location where we entered the stage shortly. We arrived right in time, but were totally jaded.
Thanks for answering my questions and for making a record that recalls the sound of true heavy metal. It’s a really good disc and I hope it does well. Good luck on the tour for the record as well! – Eric