Rock and metal trios can experience unique creative and musical challenges. But with five studio albums produced over the past decade, Kadavar clearly has had no shortage of ideas, despite having at least one less member than most contemporaries. The German trio is willing to take creative risks, which include the new album, For the Dead Travel Fast, released Oct. 11, 2019 on Nuclear Blast. Kadavar explores the band’s darkest musical depths since forming in 2010.
The straight ahead and psychedelic rock tunes that characterized earlier efforts like Abra Kadavar and Berlin are largely absent. Even the metallic tinge of Rough Times now seems almost too comfortable. These albums may have been louder; the nearly hypnotic pulse and cinematic feel of For the Dead Travel Fast clearly command attention. Listeners are in supernatural and occultist territory now, journeying into the catacombs of the soul with a slow-paced yet throbbing downtuned guitar, bass and drums, enriched by spooky synths and a brooding narrative, all suggesting an 18th-century cult.
For the Dead Travel Fast embraces a bit more precision, driven by the drum work of Christoph “Tiger” Bartelt, who doubles as the band’s sound engineer. Musicinterviewmagazine.com spoke with Bartelt about how the band’s brightest creative spark produced the darkest of records and more.
Musicinterviewmagazine.com: The tone and aura has gotten darker on For the Dead. In many respects, it seems like part of a strategy or progression since Abra Kadavar. Was that a conscious decision when writing and recording the album?
Christoph “Tiger” Bartelt: Getting the tone right for a record always requires a little bit of strategy, but maybe not like a long-term one. It has to feel right, foremost. I guess we try to find a frame in which we can put all the ideas. And there is always a certain urge for progression.
Let me explain. We lightened up a little on Berlin and I think that was because we wanted to try something different. Coming back from two years of touring and finally arriving back in the city we love was what made the record. Bassist Simon “Dragon” Bouteloup was new in the band and we were up for a change. It was all about getting that MC5 vibe, raw and dirty, but also celebrating in a way.
From there, with Rough Times, the mission was to capture the darker aspects of our lives. It became our most aggressive and frustrated record. We cranked it up to a whole new level. It’s partially ugly. That’s the way it had to be. I think the mission on For the Dead was to create something like a story or a movie, in which darkness can be mixed with beauty. There is no good and bad anymore. As a conscious decision we turned ourselves to that darkness, but the elegant touch to it came along the way. It’s a little yang to the yin.
Guitarist and singer Christoph “Lupus” Lindemann is a transformed player. For example, On “The Devil’s Master,” Lindemann’s vocal delivery and playing style invokes the sound of a man hypnotized or maybe possessed. How did the vocal approach change for this album?
The vocals certainly carry the atmosphere in a special way. Lupus is a singer who is very particular about vocal melodies. In addition to that, we tried to find certain harmonies to create this dark, but beautiful vibe. He’s [Lindemann] becoming a better singer with every record. Nowadays, he doesn’t scream anymore. But he has developed his tone quite a lot, which is the biggest part of it. I can put any microphone in front of him, run it through a preamp and a compressor, put some reverb on it and it’ll sound great.
And for the musical aspect, I’m not good at music theory but I believe it’s more minor melodies than just pentatonic on this record. “The Devil’s Master” was my initial creative spark for this record and helped to kick my other ideas in a certain direction. Writing the intro to the track “The End” was probably the most work, but once I got that out, that’s when that aura and tone you are referring to became obvious. Lupus threw in “Children of the Night” and after that we kind of had the framework.
Which songs do you feel you took the biggest risks?
We put out a seven-minute video of “The Devil’s Master” opened by “The End.” That intro is one of my favorites on the record because we had never done anything like it. It’s not a whole track, it‘s not rock and I had no idea if people would understand that. Then, there’s another track like that, “Saturnales,” which is a guitar ballad, sung by Simon.
We don’t believe in serving the mainstream as the key to success. Even if we have a lot of listeners, there’s always a certain risk that some won’t like it. But it’s important to always take that risk. Otherwise you will become boring.
This album affects my psyche as a listener even more than past ones. Was that intentional? Does your own music affect you?
Making obvious on the outside what’s happening on the inside is a crucial part of writing music. I believe that as we grow as musicians and songwriters, we also get better in the way we can have a dialog with our own demons. Accept them as part of ourselves and let them out. That’s more effective than just saying something randomly evil to freak people out. I feel that you first gather all these weird unspoken things and try to find a way to put them into words and music. When something shakes you on the inside, you know you’re doing the right thing, like stirring the ground of the deep sea.
Finding what’s affecting you also has a clearing effect. These lyrics are more picturesque and kind of developed on their own. The way they became intertwined with the music was special. On Rough Times we basically puked out the lyrics. I like to think that on this record there is some kind of a philosophical approach, a deeper thinking that goes beyond bare frustration and anger, which are feelings that often just mask something that lies deeper. We’ve tried to go there.
What are the challenges in finding new inspiration or breaking new ground in metal and doom rock?
The challenge is that there are only three instruments and 12 notes. On top of that, you want to be unique in a predefined type of sound. In the end, everyone tries to make a big difference in a sphere where there are a lot of similarities and honestly, not so much you can do. I found my peace with it because I believe in individuality. When you‘re honest and seeking to clearly express yourself, without compromise, I believe 12 notes and three instruments are more than enough. But when I scroll down my Instagram feed, I sometimes get confused. So many people tell me I should just smoke weed all day and only listen to Black Sabbath. It‘s hard to do it right.
Storytelling is critical for Kadavar’s music. When writing a song, do the lyrics dictate the musical composition or does the opposite happen?
We come from a rather musically driven approach. Anyway, I believe we were way more candid in everything we did on our first two albums. Lyrics play a bigger role now, they set the tone. I can start playing guitar to a certain feeling or in order to create a certain atmosphere. But I’m probably subconsciously already putting lyrics together or fishing for them while creating that atmosphere. It’s kind of an intertwined process. But it helps to kind of have a certain topic to contribute.
Each album attributes songwriting credits to the band as a unit, rather than individuals. Does being a trio limit or free you when writing new music?
It’s a lot of both. We spend the most time on creating the right balance. Everyone needs to be bold in a trio, but must not overstep the boundaries, to serve the bigger picture. And in the trip constellation, it’s naturally unbalanced and you gotta play along with one and against the other sometimes. It’s weird. When we played the show with The Cosmic Riders Of The Black Sun, I realized how much we had been in this trio frame. With guest musicians, all of a sudden we could relax and do less and that would be beneficial to the whole mix. In the end, it’s always about creating a balance under certain circumstances or serving a certain purpose.
With this record, our intention was to get the dark atmosphere perfectly balanced, which is why in the studio, we also made overdubs whenever needed. When we play live, we’ll need to find ways to fill the gaps. But the trio mindset will stay as the backbone of our music, I guess.
How does being from Germany influence your musical output?
I don’t believe that there is a strong connection between history and our music. The Nazi history is disgusting and doesn’t evoke a fascination in me like fiction does. For a long time I wanted to destroy everything German in me. I didn’t want anything German to be a part of myself or how people saw me. But through all the traveling, I also learned what other things people consider German, including being organized, drawn to work, reliable and on point. That’s what you hear a lot. Which is surely nothing exclusively German. For me it means being aware of that history and trying to be different and better. Open mindedness and tolerance is the better way.
Ultimately, what would you like Kadavar’s legacy to be?
I’d like to look back one day on a sustained and righteous career as a band that never had major fuck-up phases and always stayed in touch with their audience without repeating themselves. And a band that went as long as they should and stopped before they became boring.
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Justin Smulison is a professional content writer and producer whose first love is music. Smulison’s digital and print copywriting experience spans music, law, true crime, advertising and real estate, among other subjects. You can often find JS in Long Beach, New York, either running on the boardwalk or in the sand with his family.