Interview with drummer Mike Matthes
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: January 13, 2015
Reunions of once-defunct Metal bands seem to be quite the phenomena of this new millennium. Just trying to count how many Metal bands have been dug up from their murky graves over the past 14 years only gives one a bad headache.
Germany's Iron Angel was born during the first wave of German Speed/Thrash Metal in the early 80's. The band recorded two pretty successful albums, Hellish Crossfire in 1985 and Winds of War in 1986, for German label Steamhammer. In 1987 they split up, reformed 13 years later before splitting up again in October 2007 because they couldn't find a suitable line-up. Many thought that the past, present and future were already written for Iron Angel but the year 2014 proved us unbelievers wrong again; Iron Angel is BACK!!
The Metal Crypt had the privilege of a short chat with one of the founding members of Iron Angel, drummer Mike Matthes. We talked about the resurrection of the band and about things that are related to the Iron Angel's dark past...
Luxi: I just dug up some history of Iron Angel and found out that, before you were called Iron Angel, you started out as Metal Gods, which was said to be a clear homage to Judas Priest. Could you tell me something about the Metal Gods days and how easy (or difficult) it was to find the right musicians who shared the same musical vision of what Metal Gods should be all about?
Mike: Metal Gods was a school band. We found each other at the school and played music like Judas Priest. I founded Metal Gods with Thorsten Lohmann. Later we met Sven and Peter and decided to change the band from Metal Gods to Iron Angel.
Luxi: Did you ever record any demos under this moniker? If so, do you still have them stored down into your basement or something?
Mike: No, we did not record any demos or anything like that with Metal Gods.
Luxi: The birth of Iron Angel can be linked to the mecca of Heavy Metal; England. Bands like Priest, Maiden, Motörhead, Def Leppard, Saxon, etc. all played a huge role in Iron Angel coming into existence in the early 80's. Did you have any intention of becoming "Germany's answer to Judas Priest" when you were thinking of Iron Angel's concept back in those days? For instance, playing straightforward, violent and fast Heavy Metal as well as using leather, denim vests, rivet belts, etc...
Mike: Basically, we wanted to bring together all of our influences in Iron Angel but our favorite bands were primarily Judas Priest and Motörhead. You can hear it well by listening to both of our albums, Hellish Crossfire and Winds of War.
Luxi: We cannot completely overlook the fact that Germany had a pretty strong Heavy Rock/Metal scene in the early eighties with bands like Scorpions, Accept, Running Wild, Helloween, Warlock, Rage and so on. Did any of your country mates influence Iron Angel's musical start?
Mike: None of these aforementioned German bands were any influence on us. Basically, we always wanted Iron Angel to have a unique sound and be an original band and hopefully we did that.
Luxi: Iron Angel recorded a 6-track demo titled Power Metal Attack in 1984, which was heavily circulated among the underground tape traders. Can you still recall the experience of entering the studio to record your first ever demo? Did you feel proud afterwards with what you had accomplished?
Mike: The demo was actually recorded at our rehearsal room. We have never recorded our practice sessions just to learn to do our songs better. Back then we all thought that the Power Metal Attack recording sessions were good enough to publish them as a demo.
Luxi: That very same year you recorded the band's second demo titled Legions of Evil, which featuring six studio songs and one live song. This demo brought you even more recognition in the underground Metal scene and obviously reached some ears at Steamhammer eventually. How highly do you rate this demo in the sense of what good it brought the band?
Mike: That was actually the merit of Stefan Meier; he sent the demo everywhere. Also to Steamhammer, which snapped us up back in those days.
Luxi: Your deal with Steamhammer gave the boost that Iron Angel needed and Hellish Crossfire, Iron Angel's excellent debut album, was recorded and mixed in May 1985 at Caet Studio, Berlin, which was the capital of East-Germany back then. How was it to record Hellish Crossfire? Did you get it recorded the way you originally hoped?
Mike: At first we were happy with the production on it and all that. Berlin was divided into two parts back then, East and West Berlin. Of course, we recorded the album in West Berlin. Since it was the first time that we had recorded an album in a studio, we were very pleased with the production. After we had recorded the Winds of War album with Kalle Trapp, we were no longer as satisfied with our debut album, Hellish Crossfire. But I guess that is pretty normal and almost every band is unhappy with their debut albums because you always try to make improvements, even production-wise, you know.
Luxi: Iron Angel originally came from Hamburg and you still decided to record the band's debut album in East Germany. What was behind that decision? Didn't the so-called "Iron Curtain" cause you any trouble?
Mike: Due to the strict political climate back in those days, you needed working visas to get the band to record in East Germany. Please see my answer to the previous question.
Luxi: Once you had Hellish Crossfire released did you find it hard to put Iron Angel's sound in a specific sub-genre of Metal? Did you see Iron Angel as a Speed Metal band, Thrash Metal band or simply just violent and aggressive sounding Heavy Metal act? How did the Iron Angel fans see you?
Mike: I think that Iron Angel is more like an aggressive Heavy Metal band than anything else really. If you listen to the two albums we made back then, you can perhaps agree with that. In fact, a great and very fitting quote came from Mille, the vocalist and guitarist of Kreator, who once said "you are not a Thrash or Speed Metal band but a hard-sounding Heavy Metal band." I guess that's what we consider this band to be; a hard-sounding Heavy Metal band. :)
Luxi: What's the story behind the son of Ritchie Blackmore, J.R. (aka Jürgen Richard) Blackmore playing guitar on the song "Winds of War"? How well did you know him?
Mike: He was and actually still is a very good friend of the band. I played drums for Jürgen Blackmore's band for a long time after the break-up of Iron Angel. Later, I recorded many songs with him.
Luxi: In 1990, J.R. Blackmore had his own band called Superstition with you and Dirk Schröder, both from Iron Angel (plus two other guys). How did this band get started and how did both you and Dirk get involved? Did you record anything that was officially released?
Mike: Dirk Schröder sung for a time in the band and we also recorded a demo but it was never published officially.
Luxi: Let's jump to Iron Angel's second album. Winds of War turned out to be a very successful release for Iron Angel even bringing the band on a tour of Germany with no less than King Diamond. What can you remember of this tour, off the top of your head?
Mike: It was a great tour with King Diamond. Unfortunately I cannot remember any specific details from that tour.
Luxi: Both of Iron Angel's albums were licensed for North America by PolyGram/Banzai Records originally but they didn't to push the band to the next level and you never toured in America, correct? Feel free to correct me if I haven't done my homework...
Mike: Steamhammer has never done anything for the band. If Steamhammer had supported us better, we would have played live in many of countries around the world, I believe.
Luxi: Both Hellish Crossfire and Winds of War were later released on such labels as Old Metal Records in the States and Marquee Records in Brazil, both in small quantities. How happy are you with those re-releases?
Mike: These re-releases prove that Iron Angel still seems to be very popular among metalheads today almost 30 years after the albums were originally released.
Luxi: When Iron Angel split up in 1986 did you feel sorry for your fans that you were ending the band so soon, especially considering how well Winds of War was received? Did you ever think back in those days that you would collect your troops back together again almost 30 years later?
Mike: No, we did not believe back then that we would dig the band up from its grave. Never.
Luxi: When Iron Angel made a second coming in 2000, the start seemed to be promising and you started recording the band's third album, The Rebirth. How far did the recording sessions go and did you finish any songs back in 2000? Are these unreleased Iron Angel songs still stored somewhere in your personal archives and do you have any plans to resurrect them?
Mike: We did finish The Rebirth. It's not mixed and I don't believe we will ever release it. I am sorry to say but that is the decision Dirk and I made.
Luxi: With which line-up did you start recording The Rebirth and what killed Iron Angel's ambitious plans?
Mike: The recording line-up on The Rebirth was Peter Wittke on guitar and bass, Günter Möritz on second guitar, Dirk Schröder on vocals and me on drums. As I said earlier, even if we got the album finished, I don't think we'll ever put it out (now that's a real bummer - Luxi).
Luxi: Iron Angel was on and off between 2000-2007, suffering from line-up problems and other things. What made it so difficult for the band to find that next gear in the Iron Angel machine so that you could have gotten the band running like a devil again, making new songs, playing concerts and stuff like that?
Mike: In short, we never found the right musicians for the band. It was a hard time for us really.
Luxi: Now you are back again, which is the most important thing, and according to your Facebook page, you are looking for gigs in 2015. What else do you have in mind regarding 2015? A new Iron Angel album, perhaps?
Mike: This is the first time we have wanted to play live in along time. If we are received well by the fans, we are considering recording a new Iron Angel album.
Luxi: Thank you for this interview Mike and here is hoping 2015 means a new start for Iron Angel. Glad you are back. Any closing comments?
Mike: We hope that 2015 will allow us to play live in countries all over the world. We want to bring some hellish crossfire to all of you.
|Other information about Iron Angel on this site|
|Review: Hellish Crossfire|
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