Imagine if you will, Iron Maiden with hardcore sensibilities, or for arguments sake, Bruce Dickinson fronting a hardcore band. Ramp that up one thousand-fold, and you get Ash Return. Made up of 4/5 of German hardcore legends Miozän (Gerrit, Kniffel, Outso and Tank) and Johnny La Bomba from German metallers Gloryful, the band have just delivered their debut album, ‘The Sharp Blade Of Integrity’, the aural equivalent of several punches to the gut. Here we get the lowdown from Outso, Tank and Kniffel on the recording process and what you can expect from Ash Return.
We can’t escape the coronavirus situation, so best to get it out of the way! How is everyone handling lockdown? From what we read in the UK press, Germany is gradually easing restrictions on movement, and face masks are mandatory in public.
Outso: Yes, the shops up to a size of 300 square metres may open again. Additionally, hairdressers are free to open again after 4th of May. In public, you can move freely, but not in groups of more than 2. You are not allowed to enter shops without a face mask, and the social distance of at least 1.5m has always to be maintained.
There seems to be two different trains of thought on the chance of gigs returning late in the year; one being that small gigs will return but with restrictions in place, the other being that there will be no gigs until a vaccine is in place. What’s your opinion on this, and if it is the latter, how would the band survive without gigs/festivals for a year?
Outso: Until August 31st all events including more than 1000 people are prohibited. Of course, we hope afterwards playing concerts and festivals will be possible, but suspect that there is a flood of bands who also want to play live. At the same time, the quantity of organisers will drop under threat of financial problems. Beside this issue, the audience behaviour will also change. Many people will avoid tight clubs and sweaty bodies assuming the risk of an infection. The chances of getting some festival slots in 2021 are reduced, as many festival organisers, whose festival is cancelled in 2020, have re-signed contracts with the same bands for 2021. Nevertheless, we hope to have a strong argument for the 2021 festival season with our album.
Onto debut album, ‘The Sharp Blade Of Integrity’. It is like a sharp blow to the solar plexus, isn’t it! You must have been grinning from ear to ear when you heard it back for the first time?
Outso: Yes! From ear to ear, and we are damn proud! We had a good vision during pre-production, and felt really comfortable how the songs work. Progressing during the recording process with Jörg (Uken -Soundlodge), and the mixing stage with Dan (Swanö – Unisound), the sound evolved, and the interaction of the vocals and the instruments even more so. The cool cover artwork from Tank was the cherry on the cake, and tops the whole package off.
Tank designed the cover artwork? It is stunning! Did the album title come first, or the artwork?
Tank: I did yes! Thanks a lot! But it’s no painting! It’s a Photoshop messed up photo of a St. Michael wall-sculpture I own. We thought we needed a sword in it to make the whole picture fit with the style, so we searched for a kinda “Angel & Sword” thing, and that was the perfect match. The title came afterwards. For me, the perfect expression. Being true and to yourself can sometimes can be pretty painful, and the fact is, that sometimes you have to cut something off to keep sane.
How quick did Johnny come on board once you decided that giving up after the demise of Miozän was not an option? And once he was in, how quick did the album fall into place?
Kniffel: After quitting Miozän, it was no question of moving on. We already had written 5 or 6 songs, which had the sword core spin, and were too good to cast away, so we launched a call on Facebook (without mentioning the name Miozän) and one of the first to respond was Johnny. We couldn’t believe it at first that it was THE Johnny of Gloryful! Fun fact: One of the new songs already had the working title “Glorytaste” (later ‘Time Is The Enemy’), resulting from the thought “How would it sound if Gloryful wrote a Hardcore-Song?“ This was the first song Johnny performed and revealed how well these two elements merge. Sometimes the universe strikes back! Yeah!
What was the writing process like?
Kniffel: Thanks to the Internet! Due to the distance between Johnny and the rest of the band (~380km), we write the songs first during rehearsal, then record the tracks and send them over to Johnny. He can prepare the lyrics and phrasing at home and we put `em together in a collective rehearsal. Which didn’t mean we meet regularly…. to be honest. We had 3 common rehearsals before we had our first concert, and went straight ahead into the studio afterwards. Up to this point, we had 6 songs with vocals and another 5 without. We were a bit fraught, when the vocal recording session started, but watching Johnny performing the latter songs for the first time made us grin. He just delivered!
‘F.T.W’ (Fuck The World) is a very timely song. When was it written?
Kniffel: Actually it was one of the last songs we did, not having the current situation in mind. The riffs already existed by the end of summer, but we toned it just before we went into the studio in November. Nonetheless, it hits the nail on the head in this current time.
‘Drown In Tears’ is edging ahead as my favourite track on the album. What’s the story behind this one? And do you have a particular favourite
Tank: In my case, it changes every couple days, but “Drown” was it ’til I made the video. During that process, you hear a song so often, that you need a little break from it. Right now it’s “Burning heart”, but I guess I am doing a lyric video for that song next, and that’s it with the favourite, haha!
“Drown in Tears” is, besides “Surrender Denied”, the most personal lyric I’ve ever written. Everybody who knows me personally is absolutely aware of what it’s all about, I guess. Long story short, it describes the pain you get when you find out for yourself that you believed in a lie almost 70% of your whole life. A point where you completely lose track, when one of the most important things in your life hits rock-bottom. Could write for hours now, but it will always be the same, and hey… I always went with the “Balboa” ethos!
“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”
― Rocky Balboa
‘Time Is The Enemy‘ was the first Ash Return track that fans got to hear in advance. How were you feeling in the run up to its release? Do you still get apprehensive after all these years, or was it more a case of being desperate for the new music to be heard?
Kniffel: We wanted to give a first “We still live“, and of course we were really excited about how the new style would be received. If you aren’t excited about your music, something is wrong! The response was really cool and let us assume that the people may like it like we do.
With Johnny on board, it means you have a built-in audience of Gloryful fans as well as Miozän fans. What’s the reaction been like from each set of fans as you introduced them to Swordcore?
Kniffel: Up to now, the majority of both camps responded really positively! It’s not uncommon that the hardcore people have a traditional heavy metal background from the 70/80’s (early Maiden/Priest, etc) before they changed to listening to hardcore, and so it is with the metalheads who have some punk roots. Perfect conditioning for listening to ASH RETURN!!! As for the younger listeners; it is a bit more split. Some say, “The guys can play, but we had crossover in the 90’s!?“, and some say “Up the bottoms!“
Did you get much of a chance to try out the songs in a live setting before lockdown?
Outso: We only had 2 shows as Ash Return before the lockdown. Our planned record release party on June 5th, in Hamburg, has not been cancelled yet, but realistically, we have little hope that it will work out!
There’s a wealth of experience within Ash Return. How do you view the music industry in 2020? What’s the most frustrating aspect?
Tank: Well, actually, I never thought that much about it. This is my 14th album in 28 years with 6 bands, but I never had to make a living out of this, so it’s pretty easy for me to do what I do without any compromise. At least, in my book, that’s what hardcore is all about! So, the industry never had such a big impact on me/us. Sure, it was way better back in the day, where you sold more records, even as a hardcore or punk band, and it’s frustrating to get 0,0007 cents or something for a stream. On the other hand, people get to hear your music quite easier worldwide.
Do you find yourself looked upon as father-figures in the HC scene? Do fledgling bands seek you out for advice?
Outso: Young bands with guys from the age up from 35 who play old-school NYHC-style do. Young bands from our area who play styles like Metalcore, Beatdown etc. don’t care about us at all.
Tank: Well, I picked up a bass, when I saw Outso with his old band FREEDOM BEGINS in the late eighties, haha! Not as a father-figure, but definitely looked up to them, and wanted to be in a band ever since!
Lastly, Judas Priest celebrate their 50th anniversary this year. Do you have a favourite Priest song?
Outso: ‘Victim Of Changes’
Frank: Even if I do worship the ‘Defenders’ record, it’s ‘Hell Bent For Leather’
Cheers for your time guys. Hopefully it won’t be too long before audiences get the chance to witness Ash Return up close and personal!
Tank: It’s been a long time since we played UK stages! Would love to return next year!!!
Live dates still scheduled as going ahead –
05.06.20 HAMBURG – Goldener Salon + OUT OF STEP + BASHDOWN + BY A STORM
03.10.20 BREMERHAVEN – Rock Center
08.10.20 HANNOVER – LUX
09.10.20 MANNHEIM – 7er Club
‘The Sharp Blade Of Integrity’ is available now, more information here.
Interview – Dave