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Metalium: Heroes Reborn In Metal

By Daniel Höhr, European Correspondent
Sunday, March 10, 2002 @ 7:00 PM

An Exclusive Interview With Me

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Metalium have been one of the big names on the European metal scene ever since the release of their first album Millennium Metal - Chapter One in 1999. Following the first release, Metalium were voted Most Successful Newcomer by Media Control in Germany the same year. Another album, State Of Triumph - Chapter Two followed and now, after adjustments in the line-up, the third album, Hero-Nation - Chapter Three is on the shelves - at least over here in Europe. All three releases are concept albums and are built around the main character, Matalian, whose saga continues on Hero-Nation.

Musically, the four-piece from Hamburg, Germany show what heavy metal in the twenty-first century sounds like: powerful, melodic and with a good dash of musical skill. Reasons enough to hook up with bassist and producer Lars Ratz...

KNAC.COM: Tell me something about the concept of your new album.
LARS: The central character on all our albums is Metalian, who on the first two albums comes across like a science fiction figure, so we decided to put him back on earth on Hero-Nation. His soul undergoes several reincarnations in bodies of historical figues from different countries, so each song reflects the most dramatic moment in the life of a different personality.

KNAC.COM: What came first, the characters or the music?
LARS: The music. The music always comes first and then we have a look at what suits the music best in terms of topics and then we change a few minor things in the music and arrangements.

KNAC.COM: There is a broad spectrum of music on your new album. It comprises what is commonly called power metal and also something that almost sounds like a musical.
LARS: Well, that's because Henning, our singer, is a musical fan. He's usually responsible for the ballads and he wrote "Infinite Love." To represent England, we wanted to avoid the usual Highlander images - well, Scotland really - so we went for the love story in Shakespeare's Romeo And Juliet, which is more dramatic anyway [isn't that Italy??? - dh]. So I suggested a duet and we had to find a Juliet as well, and we asked Carolin Fortenbacher, whose five-octave voice was exactly what we wanted for the song.

KNAC.COM: Where did you get her from?
LARS: We're friends. I mean, she is a top musical and opera singer and she fits in perfectly. Funnily enough, we were quite surprised because of the general reaction, even to the contents of the song. People went, "Oh... this is a bit ambitious." I thought, "Sod it." As an artist, I think, you have to find your own paths and sometimes you have to risk something. Now the same people are telling me how great the song is.

KNAC.COM: How much time did you spend working on the album?
LARS: We started in October and finished the record in January, so four months.

KNAC.COM: Hero-Nation is your third album. You've had quite an astonishing career. You got voted Newcomer Of The Year by Media Control in Germany in 1999. How has the success changed the band personally?
LARS: We've really got to know each other and we've grown together, which I think is one of the reasons why Hero-Nation sounds so homogenous and also a bit more laid-back. When we first started, I put the band together and we had to do a quick album. We got really lucky that it was so successful, but we couldn't develop that sort of band feeling. Now after some years, we really feel like a band.

KNAC.COM: How difficult is it to find the right balance between producing a work of art on the one hand, and writing metal music that sticks in your head on the other?
"Some people say we play power metal, others say we play "true" metal, whatever that means. If metal isn't true, it's not metal, anyway."
LARS: Well, unfortunately, it seems that most people don't really care what we sing about. We could also sing about toothpaste or something, people wouldn't notice. Unfortunately. Basically we have the concept and everything because we like it, but I can perfectly understand the people. I wasn't very much interested why that guy was singing, "Run to the hills..." -- you see what I mean? It's a good song with a great melody and then again one band is different from the other. One band uses stories and concepts, others don't. It's down to the bands, really.

KNAC.COM: You are usually categorized as a typical power metal band. Especially on the new album you cross quite a few borders.
LARS: I think we just play heavy metal that suits us best and what other people call it, is their own business. I grew up with Iron Maiden, Scorpions, and even Van Halen was heavy metal then and I can remember the headbanging during their Monsters Of Rock show. All these categories and sub-categories like poser metal, black metal, death metal or whatever didn't exist. I know people always need their pigeonholes and labels. Some people say we play power metal, others say we play "true" metal, whatever that means. If metal isn't true, it's not metal, anyway. I mean, all of us, you and me are involved in heavy metal, but if somebody asked me to tell the difference between black metal and death metal, I wouldn't be able to explain it to them, because it's hard to grasp all the categories and sub-categories and why should we bother, anyway? I play the music that is right for me and publish it, which is a bit more individualistic. You can't make any money with this anyway.

KNAC.COM: How will you put the concept of Hero-Nation on stage?
LARS: We will keep the main bits of our stage decoration, but of course, we can't take Carolin Fortenbacher on tour with us, so we probably can't do the ballad live. And we can't take Don Airey or Ken Hensley with us either, so, like other bands who don't have a keyboard player, the keyboards will come from a DAT or MD.

KNAC.COM: Talking about keyboard players, how did you get Don Airey and Ken Hensley for your new album?
LARS: Well, we are acquainted. I have a booking company in Hamburg and I'm actually their booking agent in Germany. I know it's not very spectacular, but I wanted to have them on the album, because on each album there is a gimmick of some sort, but I thought on the third album could make my own dream come true. I am very happy and also proud to have them both on the album.

KNAC.COM: What about touring?
LARS: We'll start in Hanover at the end of April. All the dates are being booked and confirmed at the moment.

KNAC.COM: A German tour or European?
LARS: European. We have a lot of fans in the southeast part of Europe. Our shows on the last tour were completely sold out there, but there still some work to do in Germany. It is important to go on tour, even if you end up playing in front of 150 people. We have to show we are a great band and we don't rely on big names from America or whatever, and we already proved that on the State Of Triumph Tour. Hero-Nation is the best album we've made so far, but we have to do it on stage as well. Every show has to be good, although, like our Wacken show last year, some of them are not so good. Personally speaking, I don't like those bands that put an album out every one and a half years and you never see them live. I mean, that can't be the reason why they became musicians.

KNAC.COM: How successful are you in the USA?
LARS: We sold exactly 7,000 copies of each album in the USA, so about the same as Gamma Ray. Bearing in mind what's popular over there, I think this is quite a lot, but certainly not enough to go tour there. Unfortunately.

KNAC.COM: Well, you can do something about it now. Most of our readers live in the States, so this is your opportunity to advertise Hero-Nation, so tell them to buy the album.
LARS: Well, good idea, but our American record company has gone bust and now we'll have to find something else. There is definitely no label for our kind of music anymore and other labels have their own products and are certainly not interested in distributing their competitors' albums. We'll see what we can do, but in the meantime you can get the record on www.metalium.de.

KNAC.COM: Now, let's think about the next album. How are you going to top a killer album like Hero-Nation?
LARS: I have no idea. I mean, as an artist you are so close to your own product that you can't really decide which direction you want to go in. This is why each Metalium album has its own atmosphere. The first one is groovier and more spontaneous, the second one is more mature and speedier, and Hero-Nation is hopefully a good mixture of both together with new elements. At least that was the idea. I mean, there are good songs on it, the album is groovy and the fact that we have a new drummer who is also a songwriter places us in the position that now all the members of the band are songwriters. That enables us to fill a gap in our songwriting. We had up-tempo songs and ballads, but now we can also concentrate on mid-tempo songs like "Odin's Spell" with Don Airey on keyboards. It somehow seems to fits together, but you cannot plan it, you know what I mean?

KNAC.COM: Do you actually listen to your own records regularly?
LARS: No, not regularly. Especially after the mix, I need some days to get a clear head. When you write songs, write the lyrics, record them and mix them, you need a break for a while. You've just had enough for some weeks. You can't tell whether it's good or bad, either. When you then go back to the recordings after a while and give them a careful listen, you think, "Hey, this is not too bad." Now I can listen to Hero-Nation, and I have to say I really like it.

KNAC.COM: Well, thanks for the interview, all the best for you and I hope to see you on tour sometime.
LARS: Yeah, when you're around, pop backstage and we'll have a beer.

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