October 2010 - TORTURED SPIRIT
Those of you who have academically dealt with doom metal made in Germany will already have noticed the name TORTURED SPIRIT. They are one of the few heavy bands here that have a real individual sound. Even though it's not difficult to detect their influences, ranging from Saint Vitus to Internal Void, they systematically carved out a niche for themselves. In particular, their latest album 'Arkham Sanitarium' showed that TORTURED SPIRIT had made progress in all areas. For this reason, it's not a surprise that one of their long-standing supporters is John Brenner of Revelation/Against Nature, who once again released 'Arkham Sanitarium' on his own label Bland Hand Records in 2009. It was, therefore, high time to do an interview with guitarist/vocalist Thorsten 'Oddy' Frahling, because there have been a few changes in the lineup of the band. Apart from this, it is always interesting to chat with Oddy due to his personal view of things. We hope you will enjoy our long in-depth interview.
Oddy, it has been quite a while since the latest album 'Arkham Sanitarium'. Have you played a lot of shows to promote your second full-length and how satisfied are you with the response to your last record?
Hey Klaus. No we did not exactly play a lot of shows since we released 'Arkham Sanitarium'. I could not even tell you how many we did. The old brain is full of holes these days. But I can tell we had a shipload of fun with our gig with Merca and Thekton though the attendance in Hengelo was not that big. I think I remember it was 20 people and the bands so it was more of a party. And we did a short weekend trip to Poland last January. That was fun too. The snowy landscape alone was awesome on these days. Was not that good for driving but was fun.
We played with local Metalcore and Death Metal acts and a Metallica Coverband. We enjoyed ourselves for sure in Poland. The people there are very nice. And hell we had a goddamn circlepit during our set. Can you imagine that? As far as reviews for 'Arkham Sanitarium' go, the response has been good. And so was the response by the people who gave the album a try. We know there is still some minor fuck ups on there but that is us. We are not perfect and so are our albums. I still got a few copies of that thing flying around here if anyone still needs a CD.
Once again, you have worked together with John Brenner, who has also released 'Arkham Sanitarium' through his own label Bland Hand Records. In addition, he has contributed some guitar solos to a few songs. What do you like in collaborating with John and how did you meet?
John and I "met" on the Hellride forums when he started posting on the Revelation forum that Dennis Cornelius had opened there. We had a few chats there and he already helped me with lyrical problems for some songs of the 'Broken Souls' demo. We talked every now and then from that point on and finally met in GÃ¶ppingen when Against Nature played Doom Shall Rise. One day John told me he was going to do a festival in Baltimore with Revelation sets, Penance, the mighty Blood Farmers, Wretched and Iron Man amongst others and that this was a festival I would need to attend. And I did.
John asked me what happened with the demos we had planed to record before and I told him it never happened so he told me we should find a way to record and get things to him and he would produce and release it on Bland Hand if we wanted to? Can you ask more from anybody? I think you can not. I like to work with John cause John knows his Doom. I can trust him totally when it comes to the production. And for the lead guitars, he just asked if he could play some on some songs. Would you have neglected him? I surely did not, especially because I think I am a lousy lead guitarist.
Another well-known name who appears in connection with your album is John Gallo (Orodruin, Blizaro, Crucifist). He has demonstrated, yet again, that he has a very unique drawing style. Why you have chosen him in particular?
Because of his unique way to draw. Simple as that. I met John in Baltimore again cause he played there with Orodruin and he sold a DVD of their DSR II gig with such a nice cover art that I just had to ask him if he was interested. And he was. When I first saw the artwork for 'The Mentally Ill' I was totally happy. It got worked over by Claus, a distant friend. And I think to this day this might very well by my favourite album cover of all time. So when the time had come for 'Arkham Sanitarium', we asked John again and he did another outstanding job. I just think his work fits perfectly with ours. I would always work with the Johns if they wanted to.
I think it's legitimate to say that 'Arkham Sanitarium' is a concept album, because all songs are dealing with the stories of H.P. Lovecraft. When did you have the idea and what fascinates you about Lovecraft?
Actually not all songs are based on Lovecraft stories but they all deal with the Mythos. Some are based on Lovecraft though but others are inspired by the works of Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth or Henry Kuttner. It all started with the lyrical idea for 'Dagon's Children' quite a few years back. I cannot even tell you when it was. I just know I was taking the dog for a walk one day and looked into puddle and had the impression someone was waving at me. Actually it was the reflection of someone going by. But there I got the idea. But that was on hold for quite a while. It was even before we recorded 'The Mentally Ill' that I already started working on the riffs for 'Dagon's Children', some of them I brought over from the trip to Baltimore, and told the guys I was thinking of doing an EP with a couple of songs based on the Cthulhu Mythos.
They thought it was a good idea. After we recorded 'The Mentally Ill' we began writing and instead of 4 songs, like I thought, we came up with 6 songs and ideas for this off-tracks like Horror Crept In. So we made it an album instead of an EP. It is hard to describe what fascinates me about Lovecraft. I just dig the way he writes. I like the whole Mythos. And not only what Lovecraft did but the contributions of many other authors. That is why not all songs are based on Lovecraft stories. The atmosphereis amazing in most of Lovecrafts stories and though some of the other authors do not live up to this they still wrote outstanding stories. And I cannot praise Clark Ashton Smith enough. This is an author everybody should give try.
How do you think 'Arkham Sanitarium' fit into the whole picture, or how do you feel about it compared to earlier recorded material?
That is a tough question. I can not really tell but people say there was a good development in songwriting and vocals from the earlier recordings to 'Arkham Sanitarium'. I just can say that I enjoy some of the tracks more than older ones. Can we do better? I am not sure. Songwriting is a bitch and I sometimes become desperate because I cannot come up with unique riffs or arrangements. I mean other bands have obviously the same problem but hey, it just drives me nuts sometimes. Though I must say that I enjoy some of the new stuff we got more than what we did with the last album. Maybe it is just because it is newer to my ears. On the other hand I know people who think we already got too polished and had reached our peak with 'Broken Man'. So I just think we did with 'Arkham Sanitarium' what we thought we had to do.
On your debut 'The Mentally Ill', you've worked together with Brian 'Butch' Balich (Argus, ex-Penance) whom you invited as a guest singer for the song 'Message from Hell'. Please, tell me more about your working relationship. How did you and Butch first get together?
Like John, Butch and I first had contact through the Hellride Forums I used to be more active in. I have been and to this day am a big admirer of Penance who Butch sang for on the last 3 albums. Penance is one of the bands that really had a lasting impression on me. Anyways, Butch and I met on DSR II, had small chats and we continued these chats on a non regular basis via the internet and forums. The day Penance split I was pretty pissed and I could get from Butch that he was not happy with it either. At this time he did not even sing in Argus. We had this song and I had no idea for lyrics and vocals at all and I asked him if he wanted to do the vocals for it. He was all into it and actually we wanted to include that song on one of the demos we had planned that unfortunately never were finished. But we made it happen for 'The Mentally Ill'. I am very happy that Butch sang on that track. And it is my favourite TS track, most probably because it has a real singer.
A few weeks ago you've told me about a significant lineup change, and I think that we don't want to keep it from the Cosmic Lava readers. So, what happened?
We lowered our average weight. Just kidding. Flo, a friend of my cousin, who I jammed with in Electric Gravity, accompanied us to our gig with Merca and Tekhton and after the gig he said, a second guitar would not do us any harm. So I told him if he though so, he better come around and proof he was right. So he came to visit us in the rehearsal room, we jammed a few times and here we are. After more than 6 years with the same line up we finally added a second guitar player. Markus was always keen on getting a second guitar player but Flo is the first guy I get along with, though the other guys would say we already fight a lot. But it is all good. The new stuff we are doing with him shapes up nicely and he added some nice extra spice to those new songs we already had finished more or less.
Please, tell me more about your next releases. As far as I remember, there will be a split tape with Earthlord. All this sound pretty exciting so what can we expect? What is on the agenda for the future of TORTURED SPIRIT?
Yeah that Earthlord/Tortured Spirit split will come out early next year hopefully. We do not need to hurry though. The Earthlord material is already recorded since quite a time. I just asked Phil Swanson (Hour Of 13, Seamount, Vestal Claret, NightBitch) what happened to these recordings, if he was going to release them and what he thought about splitting with Tortured Spirit. Phil is digging our work and when I asked him he was into that idea. Couple of days later I got a message from No Visible Scar Records who do limited to 100 pieces cassette releases if we were okay releasing the split on their label. We gave it a thought and though we know cassettes are not the number 1 format for any kind of music anymore we still think it is an awesome idea. I love to have original cassettes of stuff every now and then.
What more in our agenda? I think we are going to record a couple of tracks this winter for the split with Earthlord and some more. We would like to split with another band, and they are willing as well it seems, but there is no label yet and we will just see if we can make that happen. Anyone interested in releasing our music can always contact me. ;) As for gigs in the near future: I am not sure. We will play the next Dawn Of Doom this November in Switzerland together with Children Of Doom, Sideburn, Sigiriya (ex Acrimony), Zatokrev and Lord Vicar. And we will be playing on the Raging Death Date next April as well. That will be a lot of fun I guess as this used to be a fest for Death Thrash and Black Metal mostly. Black Salvation seems to be playing there as well so we are not the only lame ass band there.
Has MySpace helped you guys to draw attention to your music?
Yes and no, I'd say. Surely we found some really supportive people like Phil on myspace but goddamn it we got more than a thousand "friends" but do not sell a 1000 records - yet, hahaha. You always get a shit load of "friends" that you wonder why they requested that "friendship" in the first place. That is what it is right now. On one hand it is a great tool for every musician to have some kind of easy homepage and get connected with others. On the other hand there is so much music around I barely can check out everything in an appropriate way myself and some people are just there to spam.
What was your worst gig and what was your best gig?
Favourite question. You'll get a damn long answer on that. I guess we do not have the reputation for being a stable live band. We fucked a few gigs up. They get really bad when Markus can barely hear Michael and me play as he plays damn loud. The worst thing we did surely was our gig with Beehoover and Versus The Stillborn-Minded in Crailsheim, where we were damn late due to traffic jams and it being a Friday so Markus and Michael had to work till noon while I was still in university. Arriving there totally fucked up, we were told to play the last spot as the other bands set their stuff already so we pretty much went on stage totally fucked up and fucked the gig up. But the trip to the gig and back home was funny with a lot of bad jokes. Thinking about good gigs, a few of them come to my mind. Our Doom Shall Rise experience was great though I was so nervous I fucked up the beginning of 'Man And The Spider'. But it went okay from there on and we had John Brenner jam 'Broken Man' with us. That sure was an honour.
The gig with Warning and Serpentcult in GlÃ¼ckstadt was great. We asked if we could play, expected nothing but we got a damn good reaction from the crowd. The gigs in Poland were great as well. And one gig comes to my mind where the audience was small but very responsive and the experience around our gig add a funny entertainment factor. That was our gig with a band I cannot recall the name of and Somber View. You were there as well. Can you remember the name? I cannot. We were supposed to open but the Alternative Metal Band insisted on opening because the singer fired the rest of the band and got a new line up just the week before so their set was damn short. So Somber View asked us to headline and we had to extend our set by a couple of tracks we had not played live nor rehearsed in a while. The few doomheads in attendece and the Somber View guys especially enjoyed it so much we had to play a couple of encores including the Archetype. That was already pretty damn good but then the first band activated their six "fans" to make some noise till they could paly encores after we had finished. I thought that was funny but the Somber View guys were totally pissed. Anyways we had a lot of fun that night.
Hm, I remember that show with Somber View, but I forgot the name of the other band. But it was indeed a great night! You have for a long time monitored the doom metal community and I noticed that you also have a great rapport with other musicians from all over the world. How do you judge the current doom scene?
That is a tough question. It is hard to answer. On one hand there is a lot of new bands coming up, weekly already it seems to me and if you do not have a full band you have a project. The internet was helpful to spread the word about Doom these days I guess. On the other hand it is hard to keep an overview. When I started listening to the more traditional side of Doom there was not that much bands active anymore but now I can hardly tell how many bands there are. And then there was this explosion of Sludge and the extremer form of slow music. Boy and there seem to be a million bands out there that sound like Electric Wizard. That makes it harder to get recognized these days I guess.
I sometimes ask myself if this will be like in the times of the great Death Metal or Black Metal Boom. I guess only time will tell. The good thing about it though is that there are a few more festivals to go to, more tours and there are some really great bands coming up with good shit. Hour Of 13, Seamount, Iron Hearse or Leather Nun, just to name a few that really impressed me as of late. As for my rapport - when I was younger I had to tell every band that meant something to me that they meant something to me. Add the incredible time I spent in certain forums and you know why some people know me.
What have you done before you formed TORTURED SPIRIT? Did you play in other bands?
Markus and I had already played in the predecessor Mandark for a short period of time. Michael played in a band before he joined Tortured Spirit as well. Some kind of school band I think. Oh and he was part of the legendary Victims Of Madness. Flo did play in his schools big band I think and is part of that project I have with my cousin and his friends. For fans of Thrash and Death Metal I can only tell you to check out Michael's other band Terrorblade. They fucking rule and are hellishly entertaining.
A few years ago, you have travelled to Baltimore, Maryland, to visit the Doom Or Be Doomed Festival. I can imagine that it must be a fantastic experience for you. Please, tell us a bit about your trip.
Oh the trip to Baltimore was a revelation (pun intended). John told me I had to come over to the US to attend that show as he knows my love for American Doom and I was damn right, I would not have wanted to miss this. The whole fest took place in a small bar in the basement but it was phenomenal. The return of Iron Man and the Blood Farmers, Penance with Terry Weston (who was not with the band anymore when they played the DSR 2 years before) and boy was he heavy and such a nice guy. I have seen Revelation playing two sets, a drugged out Bobby Liebling jamming War Pigs with Unorthodox, Wretched were there, Chowder were cool as fuck, Earthride, too.. I just missed Internal Void. There is so much fond memories I have of that festival, so many nice people that I met.
And I have seen Ogre. Damn, these guys knew how to rock and it is a shame they are not around anymore. I love their music and they are stand up top notch buddies. I won't foget driving in the car with John's now wife, Ed Cunnigham of Ogre and Kevin McHugh, who I shared a room with and who changed my view on looking at houses with his architectural knowledge, and Ed and Kevin starting to sing the Star Treck Theme. Nerd alert. I spent a couple of days with John and his wife after the fest. We have been to Washington and Anapolis, watched an Ingmar Bergmann movie, just chilled out, went to the Otto Bar and later the Paper Moon with Josh Hart, hanging out at an Against Nature rehearsal and stuff like that. I will never forget these days.
Some of the best of my life for sure and I want to go back and visit John again one day. I need to have more of those great chips for breakfast and crab cakes. And I want to go to all the museums again and drive John nuts by saying that this was not painted like Bob Ross would have painted it. These few days with John left an impression on my view on music as well. If it was not for John I guess the arrangement of 'Dagon's Children' would have been different but he encouraged me to leave certain paths and wander on new ones. I cannot thank him enough for doing so. Oh and he turned me on quite a few 70s heavy rock bands.
Ok, that's all for now. Thanks a lot for your time and interest in answering my questions.
Thank you, Klaus for your interest and your support of Tortured Spirit.