Interview with vocalist Mem von Stein
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: December 4, 2016
German thrashers Exumer split up back in 1991 after releasing two highly heralded albums; the band's debut Possessed by Fire in 1986 and its follow-up Rising from the Sea just a year later.
Exumer reformed in 2008 with two members from the band's original line-up; Ray Mensch on guitar and Mem von Stein on vocals. Since the reformation they have released two more albums, Fire & Damnation in 2012 and The Raging Tides in 2016, both albums following the band's original musical concept which is old school Thrash Metal.
Exumer was invited to play at Jalometalli Festival in Oulu, Finland at the beginning of July 2016, which also marked the band's first ever live appearance in Finland. The following interview with vocalist Mem von Stein is not only based on Mem's own experience playing at that festival but also how they got signed to Metal Blade Records, what Mem, whose origins are in Turkey, thinks of this unfortunate and sad terrorist attack that occurred at Atatürk Airport in Istanbul, Turkey on 28 June 2016, Exumer's future plans among other things as well.
Luxi: So Mem, I happen to know it is your first time here in Finland with Exumer. What kind of expectations did you have about our country and playing at Jalometalli Festival in Oulu, Finland in particular?
Mem: Yes, indeed. It was our first time in Finland. Obviously, it was something that we were all looking forward to. And I must say it was a really cool experience to be in the country and to be part of a cool festival and also kind of a main support for Anthrax. Yes, it was all in all a really positive experience for us.
Luxi: Did you also watch some of the other bands at the festival like Anthrax, for example?
Mem: I did see Anthrax's performance for a few songs and that was solid, like a professional band who's been in the game for so long, should be delivering.
Luxi: Just a couple of days before Jalometalli you played at Metal Magic festival in Frederika, Denmark. What was this experience like? Did you feel like you had a bunch of supportive fans in Denmark? Were those people any different compared to the Finns?
Mem: Metal Magic in Denmark was really cool. Danish fans are really supportive. You know, I think overall it was more geared towards metal fans, the one in Denmark, so they knew of Exumer whereas I found the crowd in Finland was more geared towards all kinds of different music and not a specific genre. A band like Anthrax would do really well compared to a band like us even though I thought we did well but we're not as commercially overreaching as Anthrax. I think the festival in Denmark for us was a lot more successful in terms of the feedback we got from the crowd but we enjoyed playing both of them. I really liked both experiences and we would definitely return to Finland any day. It was really cool.
Luxi: You did four other festivals after the Jalometalli experience, all in Germany; two of them took place in August and the other two in September 2016. What will happen after them? Will there be more touring or are you planning to take a break?
Mem: Yes, we played a couple more festivals and pretty much right now we are done for this year. We're picking up in January of 2017. We start with South America and then make our way back to Europe. Those are the plans for right now and we're pretty happy with the schedule that we had. We did a lot of work in Europe in 2016. We did three weeks to support our new album, The Raging Tides, in January and February and then we came back for all the festivals. We've been busy in Europe for 2016. So 2017, we'll focus our attention to South America.
We'll have Maryland Deathfest in May 2017, which is in Baltimore. Yes, we're going to spread ourselves maybe a little thinner in Europe but that's where we are at right now.
Luxi: Exumer's fourth studio album The Raging Tides was released on Metal Blade at the end of January 2016 and the response has been even better than for your comeback album Fire & Damnation, released in 2012. Do you believe the success of this album has to do with tighter musicianship and better songs?
Mem: The response to The Raging Tides was amazing. We kind of knew what we were doing on this record whereas with Fire & Damnation, we had to figure out what we were going to do and we were able to capitalize on all the strengths of Fire & Damnation with The Raging Tides and write music that was geared towards a more hard-hitting album than Fire & Damnation was. I think Fire & Damnation was a good comeback for a band that was inactive for 25 years. Yes, I think it definitely was a step up and that's what you want to do with every recording you put out there. You want it to be better than the last. I think we definitely did that.
Luxi: What was it like to reactivate Exumer back in 2008? Did you feel like it was the right time to dig this old corpse up from its nearly forgotten grave and breathe some new life into it?
Mem: Yes, I think it was the right time to reactivate Exumer in 2008. We've been back eight years now and I think it's been the right decision, the right time frame. Ray and I are in a good place. We really know what we want to do and everything that we've been doing so far has been paying off. It really worked out.
Luxi: What about signing this deal with Metal Blade? Was it Metal Blade Records that eventually made a serious offer to you guys which you simply couldn't resist?
Mem: Yes, I've been friends with Metal Blade since the Wacken show in 2001. I got to be friends with them in 2000 and they were pushing for Exumer to play in 2001 at Wacken with them and The Rock Hard crew. We shopped the demo and we recorded Fire & Damnation and then we shopped the record and they gave us a great offer and we went with it. We felt that was the right decision back then, even more so now, because they're really behind the band and I'm in contact with the European office and the LA office all the time. It has really worked out for the band and everything.
Luxi: What happened at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport some months ago where these three terrorists killed 44 people and injured many more is just one example of how people from different religious backgrounds simply cannot tolerate each other. Doing these low-life terrorist attacks seems to be the only solution this scum of the earth understands. Are you any worried about going to certain places nowadays?
Mem: The attack in Istanbul at the airport was very, very unfortunate and these types of attacks, unfortunately, will continue. And I'm very much enthralled in writing about it and my personal feelings. You can read about what I think about all this in the song called "Shadow Walker" on The Raging Tides. I think this type of behavior starts really early on in a lot of young, impressionable people's minds and then the end result is, most of the time, something that you see that happened in Istanbul or in Paris and so on. I think it's of the utmost importance to talk to these young people at a time when you can deter them from actually going towards extreme movements and being attracted to extreme movements. Early intervention is, I think, the best way to combat that and, obviously, I live in the United States and I've been here for 17 years. I'm a US citizen now. We definitely have to deal with it everywhere around the world. It's important to really intervene and make sure that the people that can be attracted to these things are targeted and persuaded not to participate in that type of behavior and become involved in these groups and terrorist organizations, obviously.
Luxi: Talking about even heavier musical topics, The Raging Tides, somewhat ironically, sounds more Slayer than Slayer have sounded for years. It also has some elements in it that may remind some people of Exodus' Bonded by Blood, especially riff-wise. Can you see this connection to both Slayer and Exodus musically?
Mem: Yes, I think The Raging Tides musically sounds more like us. I mean, we've obviously been influenced by early Slayer, early Exodus and all that but at this point where we're a band that's been around for 31 years we don't try to copy anyone. We just try to write songs that resemble us and obviously, you will find inspirations here and there but at this point we're not trying to copy anybody. But it's also a nice compliment if you think that we do our songwriting well. Obviously, Slayer's Hell Awaits and Exodus' Bonded by Blood are two big inspirational albums for us. I'm glad you picked up on it.
Luxi: When choosing songs for your set list does it cause problems as you have four full-length albums to pick songs from, especially when playing time at festivals is somewhat restricted?
Mem: Yes, we have some stuff now we can choose from. I mean, in terms of the set list, what we're finding is that a lot of people now like the newer songs from Fire & Damnation and especially from The Raging Tides. When we first came back, we were doing a lot of stuff from Possessed by Fire and Rising from the Sea, which we still do but as we continue to put out new records, we found out that a lot of people really enjoy this newer material and we're having fun playing it so yeah, it's cool.
Playing time at festivals is always restricted because it's usually a big production or semi-big production and we have "x" number of minutes. They made sure that we couldn't play all our songs in Finland at the festival but I think that was more coming from the Anthrax crew because they have to set up, or whatever, but we can deal with it, it doesn't matter. It's just not a contest for us if the crew feels that way, we have to get off and we can't play them one more song then, that's that. It's in the past, I don't dwell on it. But I mean, festivals are restrictive in terms of set time but we'll try to blend in the new material with the old and so on.
Luxi: It's been 30 years this year since Possessed by Fire was released back in 1986. Do you have any plans to play any special shows at the end of the year where you would play Possessed by Fire from start to finish?
Mem: You know, we don't want to dwell on Possessed by Fire and how classic those records are so we don't have to reiterate the fact and we play a good number of songs from Possessed by Fire. We really try to focus on making sure that people know that we're a current band and not a throwback band so to us, that's important.
Luxi: How important and meaningful is Possessed by Fire compared alongside such Teutonic Thrash classics as Pleasure to Kill, Eternal Devastation, Agent Orange, Riders of Doom, The Upcoming Terror and others?
Mem: Yes, I see Possessed by Fire as a record that stands the test of time and I'm very proud of the record and what we've accomplished since. Obviously, it's a big compliment for us when fans think about it as a special record and it's a special record for us. Again, I don't like to dwell on old stuff or old accomplishments and would rather push or move forward, you know.
Luxi: What do you think of the Thrash Metal revival that's been going on for several years with both old and new bands keeping the flag high? Do you think the Thrash Metal scene is a bit over-saturated or is there still room for more bands, in your opinion?
Mem: Yes, it's great that younger bands come up and keep that whole scene going and that's what you need. You need old bands and new bands to push the envelope and yes, it can be over saturated just like when Black Metal was hip for a while. There was an over saturation of Black Metal bands but usually the situation weeds itself out. We're in a very fortunate position where we don't have to worry about it because we're an established band but I appreciate good talented new bands coming into the fold. You need those bands so the younger people can identify themselves with those bands. You can't have a bunch of mid-40s/early 50s people pretending that they're 15 or 16. You need bands that are young so that the kids can identify themselves with those bands and then in the process of doing that, appreciate the old stuff and the original stuff like us.
Luxi: Are there perhaps some new Thrash Metal bands out there that have managed to impress you recently or do you get more excited by listening to some of those nostalgic bands (i.e. Overkill, Testament, Anthrax, etc.) that are still out there and making some quality shit?
Mem: Yes, there will always be good bands and bad or not so good bands and you know, the good stuff separates itself from the bad and remains and is here to stay.
I listen to a lot of 80s Metal but then I also listen to bands like Deströyer 666 or I just found a German Thrash band called Division Speed. There's a thing for a band from Norway called Inculter so there's always good new stuff and quality stuff so I just listen to whatever is good. I listen to a lot of Death Metal that has an early 90s Death Metal sound, like Gruesome or Gatecreeper, stuff like that.
Luxi: Have you had time to work on new material yet and if so what could you tell about what you have penned down already?
Mem: We are planning to release another record in 2018 so we don't want to have this four-year gap like we had with between Fire & Damnation and The Raging Tides. We want to buckle down on that and get that out as soon as possible so maybe in the spring of 2018 you'll get a new Exumer record.
Luxi: So how long must the Exumer fans wait for the first ever official Exumer live DVD? Do you have any plans for one? I mean, this year marks 30th anniversary of Possessed by Fire, so... Why not?
Mem: [chuckles] Live DVDs... We have some stuff now. We do have a good amount of live footage that we can actually put together for a DVD. It just depends on timing so we'll figure it out when that is right but we do have some really cool stuff that we could actually unleash.
Luxi: Well, that's all I had in my mind. Thank you, Mem, for your time and all the best to you and Exumer as well. And those famous closing comments, eh, they belong rightfully to you, sir...
Mem: Thank you and sorry for keeping you waiting for this interview for so long and you know, we'll talk soon brother. Be good.
|Other information about Exumer on this site|
|Review: Fire & Damnation|
|Review: Fire Before Possession - The Lost Tapes|
|Interview with Mem Von Stein (vocals) on December 7, 2011 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
|Video: Fallen Saint (Live)|
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