Roadwolf, October 2019

Blog, Interview

Unchaining the Wolf

“Always the one with the bad grades, always the black sheep, always the idiot. »What’s to become of him?« they used to ask. That’s when I put on spandex, grabbed my Flying V and shortly after played Wacken Open Air.” According to Roadwolf’s guitarist Valentin “Vali” Strasser and his bandmates, heavy metal music is still looked down upon by society.

Roadwolf (gig review here) started out ten years ago, climbing the “steel mountain” of Austria’s practically non-existent classic heavy metal scene from Wiener Neustadt, a small town just outside of Vienna. “At the time we started making music together, there was no scene for classic heavy metal,” recalls Christoph “Aigy” Aigner, who served as the four-piece’s bass player since the very beginnings. Emanoel “Mano” Bruckmüller (Mano), the band’s drummer, remembers: “When we started, the Austrian metal scene was all about death and nu metal – it was the time when bands like Slipknot and Korn became a big deal.” 

“Either you believe in something, or you don’t.” – Franky

Franky

Roadwolf never wanted to go down that path, though: “There’s a clear difference between a life attitude and merely following a fashion trend. It’s wrong for a musician to go down hype lane. Either you believe in something, or you don’t,” says singer Franz “Franky” Bauer. Roadwolf wanted to live up to their true idols Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Twisted Sister, and Motley Crüe – not only musically, but in appearance and stage performance as well.

Rockers, Rollers, Seekers

At first, people dismissed them as “the glam rock lot,” a blow which still rings in Mano’s head: “They kept comparing us to Steel Panther. The problem with Austria is: If people from abroad do something, it’s cool. If the locals do it, it’s embarrassing.” Aigy agrees: “We were the only band here playing such music. The only not-nu-metal band. The outcasts. It was a serious downgrade.” Roadwolf were being looked down upon. 

Vali remembers going on search for like-minded musicians. Scouring the dodgier bars of Vienna, he tried to find a band he could join. “I told everyone I wanted to do something in the style of Priest and Maiden. They all just laughed at me. The responses I got were either »There’s no money in that,« »Nobody listens to that stuff anymore,« or simply a dismissive »Are you fucking gay?«“ Death metal fans viewed classic heavy metal as unmanly. 

“The problem with Austria is: If people from abroad do something, it’s cool. If the locals do it, it’s embarrassing.” – Mano

Mano

“I also had people walk up to me and say: »Your  band’s never gonna make it«,” Mano reveals. “I  knew they were saying that to offend me, but  honestly, it didn’t. Because I knew I already had  everything I needed from the band. And I also knew  we were gonna work even harder and achieve  something, so when the day came – and it did – all  of them would tuck in their tails and run off.”

 Franky is still encountering similar reactions in his  sphere: “I always wanted to be in a band, no matter  what. So I’ve been doing this for over thirty years  now, and yet people still ask me why I do it. »It isn’t  appropriate,« they say. But I’m still loving it. I think  whatever you do with passion and ambition will  automatically lead to success, even if it’s only a tiny  personal one.”

Paving the Way

How do you earn respect as a niche band in a country that used to be culturally so narrow-minded for most of its existence? The task seems daunting and the prospects meagre. Franky recalls the early Austrian rock scene: “There was nothing »cool« in there.” But this seems to have evolved over the past few years, “the scene has undergone substantial changes, no matter the specific genre. There’s a lot more quality and appreciation now. Still not enough, but it’s getting there.”

“Once you put your heart to something, you can actually go a long way.” – Vali

Vali

“As soon as we played Wacken, we drew some serious attention,” says Vali. “Suddenly, we sat at the same table with other musicians, and they treated us on eye-level.” Once Roadwolf had returned from playing a slot on the biggest heavy metal festival in the world in 2014, held annually in the north of Germany, their way was paved. It doesn’t occur to the band to be cocky, though. “That just isn’t us,” explains Mano. “But we do feel more respected now.” Franky makes clear there’s no reason to take off: “I’m doing it for myself and for the band. What other people say is irrelevant.” Vali describes the respect the band has earned as a “positive side effect.” But: “It’s not why I do it. I just realised that once you put your heart into something, you can actually go a long way. That’s what it’s all about.”

Finding the Right Formation

As is the case with many bands, Roadwolf still had to undergo several line-up changes before really settling. Back at Wacken, the group still had two guitarists, Franky hadn’t joined the band yet, and Aigy took on the part of the singer as well as playing the bass. Second guitarist Felix “Johnny” Keller, however, left the group after the festival performance. Over the next few years, Roadwolf tried their luck in replacing him. They checked out two more guitarists, yet neither proved to be fully suitable for the job. Vali, Aigy and Mano continued as a power trio for a time.

Their frustration about not having a fourth band member grew – Roadwolf’s music demands a full cast. In search of a singer, they eventually found common ground with Franky, who, by joining the band in 2016, relieved Aigy of the burden of balancing playing bass with acting as the band’s primary vocalist. Consequently, he could go back to paying full attention to his instrument, while still adding backing vocals to the set. However, the two latest formations also meant that Vali was to be the only guitarist in the band. This circumstance demanded him to shape up his skills even further, since relying on a second guitar was not possible anymore. He decided to take up the challenge, and until today, the band still consists of Mano, Aigy, Vali, and Franky. 

In Search of Allies

Roadwolf wasn’t the only Austrian band to revive the aesthetic of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM). At around the same time, more and more musicians across the country gathered to establish a national scene for classic heavy metal music: Liquid Steel in Tyrol, Wildhunt in Carinthia, Küenring in Lower Austria. In Vienna, Roadwolf found peers in Diamond Falcon, High Heeler, and Grim Justice.

“After we’d already trotted about for some time, there were all these fellow bands suddenly coming up,” Mano recalls. “It was a huge thing for us to meet them. The first time we met in Vienna, we just stood on the street, talked for like three minutes, and then literally ended up jumping around, hugging, because we were so excited to have found equals.” Together, they formed the Austrian Heavy Metal Alliance (AHMA) in March 2014. Their piercing motto? “The future is now!” Viribus unitis (“with joined forces”), it is the alliance’s goal to tighten its bonds and spread old-school heavy metal across Austria and beyond. 

The genre’s popularity should reach a new peak, not least thanks to international acts like Enforcer, Steelwing, and Bullet, who became increasingly big at the time. “We can only thank the Swedes for bringing this music back onto the stages,” Mano continues. “They really opened the doors again.” Roadwolf suddenly realised their goal was actually not so unrealistic at all. With a clear demand for classic heavy metal among society the band was more eager than ever to take a chance.

Defining Motives

What is it that keeps bands like Roadwolf going? What lets them stick to the rocky road they have taken? “We’ve worked so hard all this time. We’re not just gonna let it go to waste. Our debut is going to be our personal milestone, and I can’t wait for it to be released,” Vali says. Aigy claims his main motivation is playing live gigs: “That was always my priority. It’s just something entirely different altogether. That fan interaction, and seeing people completely lose their shit for twenty minutes – it’s that energy you get and take along with you.”

“That’s a good point,” Mano agrees. “Playing live was the first thing we wanted to do, nevermind where. Everything went wrong back then, but we couldn’t care less. We felt amazing.” He describes the exchange of energy as the most fascinating aspect of a stage performance: “You give energy, but you receive some from the audience in return – and it all happens voluntarily. You don’t have to convince anyone to participate. There’s really a transformation going on, which happens so rarely in life. Live music is where people willingly give their energy.”

“It’s also about telling stories, though,” Vali claims. “Heavy metal tells stories in this really cool way. It’s a unique style that doesn’t rely on radio-hit schemes. You want to convey a message.” Franky adds the importance of appreciation to the bill, identifying it as the essence of making music: “Nobody wants to keep their creations hidden away. It’s always the same principle: the one builds a chair, the other writes a song. Whatever we do, we are driven by our search for appreciation. Everybody is looking for it, at least a little.” Whether artists release a record or perform songs on stage, what seems to unite them is the strive for recognition, even if only subconsciously. 

Wacken Open Air 2014

Climbing the Steel Mountain

By the end of 2014, they had released a four-track EP, unofficially named Never Surrender, of which two tracks were also released on AHMA’s 2015 Austrian Heavy Metal Alliance vinyl compilation through The Doc’s Dungeon record label. They have played countless shows ever since, including support slots for Lizzy Borden, Vicious Rumors, Night Demon, Vanderbuyst, Steel Horse, Skyclad, and none less than Enforcer and Skull Fist themselves.

Staying true to their style started paying off for Roadwolf. In 2018, their single “Condemned to Rock” got airplay on national radio 88.6. Currently, they are in the last stages of finishing their debut album. When looking back today, the band knows they made the right choice: “I think it’s cool that we started making this music right away and stuck to it. We played our part in inspiring other people and developing the scene. That’s something to be proud of,” concludes Aigy. Together, they have unchained the wolf.

“We played our part in inspiring other people and developing the scene. That’s something to be proud of.” – Aigy

Aigy

“One day, we got an email from this American lad,” Mano remembers. “Joseph, from Texas. He told us he got hold of our demo somehow. I asked him where he’d got it, and he said there was this metal band from Oregon playing in his town. He had a chat with them after the show, and they sold him our CD. He said he listened to it and it turned out to be one of the reasons he started playing the guitar.” To Joseph, Roadwolf were in the very line of succession of Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Accept, and others. “To him, we were all bands in the same league,” Aigy remarks. „We were really honoured. It meant a lot.”

Vali remembers when he was Joseph’s age: “When I was fifteen, my best friend and I started to go out in the evenings. We were so naïve, believing we’re the only ones wanting to form a metal band with the sound we define as heavy metal. We’d put on our Maiden shirts and leather jackets that we’d bought in a second-hand shop around the corner only a few days ago. Then we’d sit in our favourite hang-out, down a few beers, and shout: »We solemnly pledge to lay the foundation stone of the New Wave of Austrian Heavy Metal!« We thought it super cool at the time.” A smile rests on his face as he shrugs: “Almost came true.”

Author: Robin Frank

More information / photo credits: 
roadwolf.at
© Roadwolf
© AHMA

© Blank Manuskript

Album Review: Blank Manuskript – »Krásná Hora« (2019)

Album Review, Blog

The tone is heavy and pounding, foreshadowing something doomful: it’s the monsters lurking under our bed, and they’re coming for us. Blank Manuskript, Austria’s most promising art rockers (gig reviews here and here), have released their new concept album Krásná Hora on September 19th. Its name refers to a small Czech town and is best translated as »beautiful mountain«.

Krásná Hora tells the one story that unites us all: the rise and demise of human life. Underlying the work there is an inescapable sense of tragedy. Within the music, the fears each of us share are confronted. The world is coming to an end – and we are going down with it. Yet there is a faint hope left still, coursing throughout the album.

»Is it just on my own / I can fully unfold / And evolve my hidden inner me?« This is one of the key questions the protagonist poses in the opening track »Ouverture.« The following piece »Foetus« is a prime example of the band‘s skill to convey imagination through music: muffled, partly muted lyrics and »liquid« sound effects take the listener back into her mother’s womb.

It is »Achluphobia« (i.e. the fear of night and darkness – and consequently of the lurking monsters) which serves as the centrepiece of the album, claiming the podium with a proud length of 15:36. The track takes us back to the time in our lives we spent as shy and insecure children, unable to fully grasp what’s going on around us. A collage of musical and non-musical sounds imbues this slow and powerful song with a sense of mystery. Its minimalist yet soulful electric guitar adds feeling, often through damped accentuations. Chimes and percussion accompany this acoustic experience to create a rhumba.

Growing up, we are inevitably faced with the pressure to prove ourselves as valid individuals within society. Blank Manuskript choose to make this struggle audible in »Pressure of Pride« with heavy jazz infusions. Along with staccato vocals and an incredibly smooth saxophone theme, the piece blends a variety of demanding elements.

In »Shared Isolation« we hear a Spanish style guitar playing, accompanied by flute, which, along with its paced rhythm, gives the piece a Renaissance feel at first. Then, the electric guitar breaks in and enhances the dynamic of the piece considerably, yet to be elevated by the saxophone. An assemblage of sampled sounds paves the way to the core of the song. Its main musical theme, the leitmotif of the album – with an inherent epic feel – is already presented in »Ouverture.« 

»Avoidance mellows sentiments / As blossoms wilt with time / Embraced in insignificance / Our world has lost its prime:« The ideas of a doomed fate, isolation and loneliness are deepened with the final tracks »Alone at the Institution,« »Silent Departure,« and ultimately »The Last Journey.« With this album, Blank Manuskript have managed to successfully fuse and even extend their variety of musical elements. These include collages of sound effects, jazz, rash prog aesthetics, and sweet melodies, to name but a few. It lives up to what is expected of a concept album: the music, the lyrics, the artwork, and, most importantly, the story – it’s all there, and beautifully makes up the so-called Gesamtkunstwerk [»total work of art«].

Krásná Hora captures the contemporary world’s dire atmosphere, while yet giving the listener a tiny spark of hope that there is, in the end, some beauty left to be found. Music is always a good place to start searching for it.

Author: Robin Frank

More information/photo credits:

Blank Manuskript


© Blank Manuskript

Gig Review: Baer Traa / Garrett T. Capps, 27.09.2019

Blog, Gig Review

Chasing the Wrong Shadows?

Utrecht, NL – Friday, September 27th 2019: Baer Traa and Garrett T. Capps at TivoliVredenburg‘s Cloud Nine provided for an evening filled with folk and country music – until something went decidedly wrong.

Baer Traa, the support act for Garrett T. Capps, walked on stage at 8.30 pm, just as the program said. The crowd readily welcomed the singer/songwriter who calls soul, jazz and folk his home. Cut the jazz, increase the folk and add a soulful cover version of David Bowie‘s Space Oddity – that is what Baer Traa offered the audience this Friday night. And they willingly accepted, praising the guitarist with sweeping applause.

Things heated up further when the evening elevated from a Dutch take on folk music to Garrett T. Capps‘ (or GTC, the artist’s chosen abbreviation) country set. GTC, a chap from the Texan town of San Antonio, set out on tour earlier this year to promote his latest album In the Shadows (Again). Dressed all in yellow, wearing a black cowboy hat and round, dark sunglasses with a silver frame, he calmly marched on stage. His five colleagues on drums, bass, electric guitar, trumpet, and synthesizer already expected him. Cheers everybody, it‘s good to be back here!“ is how GTC greeted the audience as the band seamlessly boasted into the title track of the new album and tour. The band‘s sound was round, full, and tight. It is no secret that GTC draws a lot of inspiration concerning lyrics and vocal style from Bob Dylan and the rather modern icon Sixto Rodriguez, commonly known as Sugar Man. His ways of slurring the lyrics and intonating particular syllables prove that.

Striking considering the band‘s formation were trumpet and electric guitar – two instruments that are not commonly associated with country music. Their sounds enrichened the songs by giving them a fresh, modern twist. In a similar way, the synthesizer played its part in this providing atmospheric, sustained sounds that evoked images of the Texanian steppe. Sometimes, however, it had a very different effect. On ear-piercing frequencies, the band repeatedly included Sci-Fi aesthetics into their set. This makes sense, since GTC‘s new mission is called “NASA country“. The musician is aiming to make country progressive, turning it into space country, as he proudly informed the audience: “We are the only Tex-Mex space country band in the whole world!“ That is most certainly true, but does the music really profit from it? It was palpable that exactly these “spacey“, instrumental passages were the ones tiring out the audience. Nobody seemed to really react positively to the monotonous, repeated synth sounds. On the contrary, they rather pulled down the cheerful mood the vocal passages had created. It just didn‘t fit. Some people in the audience reacted to this by leaving early. Hence the question comes to mind: Why sacrifice flow and cheer for a new genre label? In the case of GTC, what started out really well unfortunately took a turn towards a wrong star.

Author: Robin Frank

More information/photo credits:
https://baertraa.com/
https://garretttcapps.com/
© garretttcaps.com