One of last year’s most welcome comeback albums was ‘An Absence of Faith’ from Australian thrashers Mortal Sin. After a long, long break, the band returned with a fresh take on how old school thrash should be played in the new millennium.
With a European tour coming up with OverKill and Drone, The Power of Metal found it more than appropriate to get an update from vocalist Mat Maurer.
Thomas played the inquisition symphony for one of thrash metal’s most characteristic voices.
Hello Mat – how are things in the Mortal Sin camp? Ready to thrash the stages of Europe?
Mat: The Mortal Sin camp is running like a well oiled machine at the moment, we are ready for Europe and we are ready to show all our fans old and new that we have a lot to offer. The tour with Overkill will be a great experience for us and I’m sure we will have a lot of fun and meet lots of great people.
The reviews I read have praised ‘An Absence of Faith’ in abundance - and rightfully so! It doesn’t exactly sound like an album that stems from the hands of a band that has been standing still for a decade. What have you been up to between ‘Revolution of the Mind’ and ‘An Absence of Faith’?
Mat: Well we stopped playing after Revolution of the Mind in 1998 and began again in 2004 so for those six years I spent doing many things. Between 1997 and 2000 I was involved a lot in the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games which was a huge and satisfying experience for me. I wrote two books about Olympic Pin Collecting and then in 2001 I started working as a roadie when ACDC came to Australia and I still work in that industry. As far as music goes for Mortal Sin we did nothing in that time, so the album “An Absence of Faith” was something that really came from nothing – maybe our brains were storing up some creative juice ready for when we started writing!!??
Coming from Australia, where did you mainly find your inspiration in the early days? The US or European thrash scene?
Mat: It was a mixture of both. Kreator, Destruction, Celtic Frost, Accept, Venom from Europe and Metallica, Exodus, Overkill and Megadeth from the US were mostly the bands that we heard of in Australia in the very early 1980’s and that’s the whole reason we wanted to play music like that.
Back in the day, it must have been a big challenge for an Australian band to break through, the geographical remoteness taken into consideration – plus the fact that there was no internet, no MySpace, just cassette tapes and the post office?
Mat: Yes indeed, writing letters and sending tapes was the only way back then to keep in contact with your fans, and also to make it into all the fanzines, so we spent most of our time writing to people all over the world. Today I can do the same amount of work in 5 minutes that would have taken 5 months back then!! For us being an Australian band is difficult in any time. Back in the 80’s the opportunities were there waiting for us, but it took a lot of guts for us or any Australian band to leave our home country to experience the scene in Europe and America. Once we realised that it was twenty times bigger than back home we felt we probably should just stay in Europe – unfortunately though that was not possible at the time. Even today we feel that if we really want to make it in the metal scene, we probably need to pack our bags and ship our families to Europe. Only time will tell I think if we decide on that.
‘Face of Despair’ was my introduction to Mortal Sin back in 1989, and I remember that, apart from being hooked on the music and your voice, I felt that it was very exotic to hear music from Australia – it wasn’t exactly an everyday event for a Scandinavian to hear music from Down Under (and it still isn’t!). Did you ever have the sense that you were something special/exotic, simply because of your (for Europeans and Americans) faraway location?
Mat: No not really. I think it may seem like a novelty for Europeans to hear a band from Australia, we talk differently, but when we sing we still sound the same as anyone else – once the weirdness wears off you still have to have some decent music underneath the story for people to continue to like you. Music is such a great medium for people to connect, whether it be through the music, the lyrics or just the story of the band, and we have found it very rewarding, even if we feel ripped off by living so far away from where all the action is!
Thinking back, what was the biggest moment for you with Mortal Sin?
Mat: There were a lot of great moments just as there will be many more. Playing with Metallica on the Justice tour was very cool, signing a major record deal with Phonogram Records was pretty big for a thrash band, let alone for an Australian one. Playing our first show overseas at the Hammersmith Odeon with Testament was very special as well. Fast forward many years and playing at Wacken Festival in 2006 was an incredible moment for us as well. We have been looked after by the Metal gods and we appreciate all those moments!
The situation in the Middle East seems to fascinate you. Lebanon [from Mortal Sin’s 1987 debut album ‘Mayhemic Destruction’] is now followed by Tears of Redemption and almost form an epic tale of the suffering of the people in the region. How did this theme come about for Mortal Sin?
Mat: A lot of times a story on the news will become a song, especially if that story has some special meaning. At the time in 1985 when I wrote Lebanon, I was working in a factory with some Lebanese people and to hear the stories they told of back home was very interesting to me. I could feel the sadness in their stories and how much it affected them. Tears of Redemption came about because Mortal Sin wanted to have a connection to our early years or a link to our past and when fighting began in Lebanon again in 2005 I suggested to the band that we write Lebanon Part two. I had an idea for the storyline in my head that would carry on the idea twenty years later with a man (now 24) questioning his faith when the realisation dawns on him that a religious war had killed his entire family. He then denies his Muslim faith as a protest, which in Muslim countries is punishable by death. When the band came up with the music I was more than pleased as it suited my idea perfectly!
The track My Nightmare on ‘An Absence of Faith’ describes the persona’s fear of his own straying sanity. What is your nightmare?
Mat: Well fear is everyone’s nightmare – our sub-conscious minds will tell us in our dreams what our nightmares are, it’s up to our conscious mind to decipher those dreams. They are lessons that we can learn from, but most people find it hard to even remember their dreams when they wake up. I don’t feel I have a nightmare!
What is Sydney like for a musician? Plenty of opportunities or a dump?
Mat: It’s a bit of both. The people who say it is a dump are not making the most of their opportunities. Unfortunately those opportunities have to be shared by hundreds of bands and thousands of musicians, so it’s fairly cut-throat.
Who do you think are the movers and shakers in metal music right now?
Mat: I think I will reserve my opinion on this question because I believe a new (old) wave of thrash metal is about to hit Europe in the next few months with all the major players releasing albums and touring, so it could very well be a new golden age about to hit – and I truly hope so!
Are there any younger Australian bands that you can recommend to an ignorant European like my self?
Mat: Geez, I have spent many months listening to Australian bands on myspace, there is so much talent out there, I hope that if things work out we could have an amazing scene here – we just need about another 40 million people here who like Heavy Metal to make a viable scene!! Ha Ha!! One of the hottest bands at the moment is Dred – definitely some talent in that band.
You’re marooned on a deserted island, but luckily you’ve got your iPod. Which five albums would be on there in best case?
Mat: Dream Theater – Scenes from a Memory, Metallica – Master of Puppets, Jimi Hendrix – Are you Experienced, Led Zeppelin – II, Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman & Howe – self titled.
Thanks a bunch for answering my questions, Mat! Any last rants to our readers before I let you off the hook?
Mat: We look forward to seeing you all in Europe, let’s have a lot of fun!
Mortal Sin will play with OverKill and Drone at Godset in Denmark on March the 20th 2008.