INTERVIEW: Mem V. Stein – Exumer

Photo Credit: Kimberly Galdamez
Photo Credit: Kimberly Galdamez

WORDS: Tim Redman

Since coming back onto the scene in 2008, Germany’s EXUMER stormed back onto the scene with 2012’s Fire and Damnation, marking an astonishing 25 year gap since their previous effort. Four years on and the band are preparing to unleash album number four, The Raging Tides. We caught up with frontman Mem V. Stein to talk about the new album, the trends of thrash metal and how the metal scene has developed since the 1980s.

Hello there, Tim from Distorted Sound here. EXUMER is a familiar name to anyone who likes their thrash with a Teutonic twist. We’re all eagerly awaiting The Raging Tides. What can we expect from the record? 

Mem: Well, I guess first and foremost our signature sound which is pretty straight forward thrash metal with an 80’s vibe, 80’s type of spirit but you know an updated, up to date thrash metal sound, solid production. Our songs are about three to four minutes long per clip, they get straight to the point and we don’t really waste any time, there are lots of memorable choruses and lots of hard hitting riffs really, that’s what you can expect! Basically the best aspects of our last record, Fire and Damnation, are just maximised on this one and we’re pretty happy with the result and think people should be looking forward to the whole thing!

You’ve recently released the title track The Raging Tides as a single. How’s the response to that been?

Mem: The response’s been fantastic really, even for the entire record where people who have heard it, they’ve been really happy with the direction and how we’ve kept it true to our signature sound and the response has been really good! We couldn’t be happier, there are lots of positive reactions. There’s always going to be people who will not like it, which is fine everybody’s entitled to their opinion. but yeah, we’re pretty happy!

Since reforming you’ve been signed with Metal Blade Records. How did that come about?

Mem: When we first recorded Fire and Damnation we shopped around the record industry and we had a few offers. but I’ve been friends with the A&R from the European office of Metal Blade Records for a long time in Germany, they were partially responsible for that one show we played at Wacken in 2001, they really were instrumental in making the case for us to play there. And they just had the best conditions, we felt really comfortable. We wanted to have a label that could actually represent us worldwide and when we came back, we paid attention to how the record was going to sound and what we were going to do and we needed a label that went along with that entire concept. Like I said I’ve been friends with them since 2000 really, so it was quite an easy choice once they offered us our deal.

The history of EXUMER is in a way typical of many thrash bands from the 80s, with over 20 years between your two classic albums Possessed By Fire and Rising From The Sea and your comeback album Fire and Damnation. Why do you think there is a trend for older bands to begin touring and recording again?

Mem: I guess it’s sort of typical with our twenty years in between records, I can only speak for ourselves and myself, and for us it was really all about timing and about friendship. Ray and I have been friends since 1985, we first met in ’83 going to Monsters Of Rock together and ’83 in Kaiserslautern. Then in 2008 when I called him and said “hey let’s start the band back up” the timing was right, he was done with his project which was a rock based project called September, I was done with my old school thrash metal band here in New York called SUN DESCENDS. We thought if we get the band back together we can do what we love and we can see each other on a regular basis. So I’m talking about us more than a trend because I can’t talk for anyone other than myself or our band. But if you’re saying that’s kind of typical and that’s what bands do, I saw DARK ANGEL got back together a little while ago but they didn’t release a record. In our case there was a 25 year gap between Rising from the Sea and Fire and Damnation, so that’s quite a long time to be away, album wise. On the flip side of that we have a total of four records and all four records we’re pretty proud of, I think from now on things are getting better and they have been since we started the band back up, so that’s good!

Lyrically EXUMER has strayed away from the tendency of some of these reformed bands to write songs about thrash and more “generic” themes instead continuing to write more individual and unique lyrics. How do you feel you’ve managed to keep the lyrical themes and indeed the songs themselves fresh, compared with some of your peers?

Mem: Lyrically I stay away from the generic stuff, I actually write about stuff that’s close to my heart. With Fire and Damnation, the bulk of the lyrics were between ourselves, the things that we went through getting the band back together, our trials and tribulations and then everyday things I see here in New York and everywhere in the world really. On the new album, the lyrical concept has gotten even deeper, I was very influenced by a lot of hotspots around the world where there was a lot of conflict, a lot of war type situations. Not straight up war, but more conflict. I was kind of fascinated how people can be so cruel to each other and inflict so much pain on to each other, so I then started to work on the concept of the lyrics and the concept of the album. I always try to keep it focused on what’s going on and what influences me, I don’t look to my left and my right, I focus on myself. I think that helped us to keep things in perspective and make things interesting.

How do you feel the thrash, and indeed wider metal, scene has changed since the late-80s?

Mem: The scene’s changed since the 1980’s, obviously. I think the biggest thing is the internet and how things are widely available. Back when we were kids, teenagers we had to wait for certain things; whether it be records, cassette tapes that were sent to us, especially from the states were we grew up. It has dramatically changed in that sense. And there was even a time when Metal was king, it wasn’t Hip-Hop, it was Metal. That has changed but there are good and bad things about every era of whatever you want to talk about, so I think we’re in a good place right now. The magic has been lost a little bit for me; I might not want be so hip on every minute on what KING DIAMOND is doing or somebody else that I thought when I was a kid, “wow I wonder what they’re doing now”.  I didn’t have a clue but now you just get constant updates every night on Facebook “show was great, this and this happened”. Obviously we do play a part to a certain degree as well, you know that’s what’s happening and if people want to know about it, you keep up with it. But definitely a lot of that mystique and magic has been lost through the instant access to everything.

In a similar vein there are more ways than ever for bands to get exposure those days. Do you feel the modern thrash metal scene is more saturated than it has been in the past and that it’s more difficult for new bands to make a mark? How has that affected EXUMER since your reformation, if at all?

Mem: Yeah, more saturated. Put it this way, back when I was growing up, I guess every band or most of the bands were able to come up with their own trademark sound to a degree. Everyone was kind of influenced from each other but everyone had their own trademark sound which made it a little easier  for bands to make their mark and get known and stay in the game if you like. Now, obviously there’s a tonne of more exposure through social media, but that means you have a sea of bands that pop up all the time and it’s just a lot of stuff, good and bad. It hasn’t affected us or us reforming, like I said earlier our reforming is due to friendship and timing and things being the way it’s supposed to be.

EXUMER are often labelled as being part of the Teutonic Thrash style. What do you think it is that causes Germany to produce such a large number of quality thrash acts compared to other countries?

Mem: People do label us part of the Teutonic Thrash style, there are areas in the world who are prone to take on a certain sound. I don’t know if it was the New York hardcore firsts for a while and then when R.E.M was going on it was like Georgia and when Sub Pop was big, it was Seattle, Washington. So I think that sound kind of stuck with the mentality of the people and the kids at the time, it worked out. It is fast, it is aggressive, the lyrics are more rooted in everyday events rather than fantasy, so a lot of people could relate to it. Especially in the 1980’s in Germany, you got to remember the wall came down late 80’s, either 89 or 90, so it was quite a different time. That sound really worked for that part of the world.

What are the future plans in the EXUMER camp then? Can we expect to see tours in support of The Raging Tides in 2016?

Mem: We’re going to be going on the road in Europe starting January 28th for a few weeks to promote The Raging Tides which will be out on January 29th. And then we’ll come back home, I’m coming back home to New York and so is Tony, our bass player, and the rest go back to Germany. And then we’ll be playing probably some festivals throughout the summer, we will be hopefully going back to South America, we’ve been in South America three times with Fire and Damnation so we’re looking forward to another trip there. So that will be pretty much 2016 and then 2017 will be just supporting The Raging Tides. Probably the latter part of 2017 we’ll start writing new material for the next record, maybe the gap won’t be four years, but maybe three years in between records, that’s what’s going to go on in the future.

I’ll bring this interview to a close by offering you the floor. Is there anything you’d like to say to the readers of Distorted Sound?

Mem: I definitely appreciate all the diehard support from the British fans, I know you guys have been out there for a long time with us, you are very loyal fans! We hope to see you guys one day, it’s not easy to tour in the UK unfortunately, but we’ll try our best to come on over and deliver our signature Thrash Metal aggression for you! Thanks so much!