Hi, first off I just want to congratulate you on your new album Armamentarium, that was released in August, are you pleased with the result?
Benjamin - Yes, we are very much satisfied with the result! Both Jacob Hansen as well as Alexander Dietz of Heaven Shall Burn, who produced the vocals with Benny, did an awesome job with the production. The brutal sound fits the new songs very well, and Benny's voice sounds even more aggressive and more versatile than on the two preceding records. The DVD that was recorded for the limited edition digipack also turned out great, the vibe of the recorded concert comes across very nicely. Also, this time the artwork and the music fit together really well, the whole thing is really a unit. I think it's a great overall package for a metal head and a Neaera fan to have.
We’ll get back to your new album shortly, but there might be some of our readers who doesn’t know you yet, could your please fill us in shortly on the band history?
Benjamin - Sure! Our guitar player Tobi and our drummer Sebastian founded the band in 2003, originally it was only a side project. Tobi and I played guitar in another band, and Tobi asked me if I wanted to play the bass in the side project band just for fun. I joined alongside Benny, who had done one more rehearsal with the guys, and thus the basic line-up was completed. Stefan was asked later by Tobi if he wanted to play the second guitar. That was after our first show. We went on to play some more shows and write songs for a demo. We recorded 7 songs in early 2004, and made a 3 track promo disc that we sent to labels. Metal Blade showed interest in our music and after some back and forth emailing, they offered us a recording contract. That's basically how we got signed. After the signing came a lot of shows, and in 2005 we put out our debut album “The Rising Tide of Oblivion”. Many live shows and tours followed, for example the first HELL ON EARTH tour with As I Lay Dying and Heaven Shall Burn, and the DARKNESS OVER EUROPE tour with Caliban, among others...We put out “Let The Tempest Come” in 2006, and we've basically been playing and writing songs up to recently when we entered the Hansen Studios again to record “Armamentarium”. We're just five metal heads who enjoy playing live and having a good time with the people who come to our shows.
Your band name is taken from Greek mythology I presume – what’s the story behind it, and why did you choose that as your band name?
Benjamin - The name is taken from a woman who actually lived in ancient Greece and who was a sexual slave to her owners. It was very common for people, or men, to keep women as their slaves in ancient Greece, and these slaves had basically no civil rights whatsoever. This may seem perverted and wrong and it doesn't seem to belong in our times, but when you take a close look you realise that it's still very common in many parts of the world today. So the name Neaera and the biography of this person is kind of a metaphor or a symbol for the fact that people are still being exploited and oppressed in our so called modern civilised world.
What about the title of the new album, what does that refer to?
Benjamin - “Armamentarium” is a term which at first seems kind of threatening due to its “military” origin. But the way in which we interpret it is about the total opposite... the “Armamentarium” that we're speaking about is that of the mind and soul. Today it seems our minds are flooded with all kinds of irrelevant shit through so many channels. People are being kept small minded by the lies and irrelevant information they are fed through the media. In the world we're living in today it's important to realize that a lot of people are suffering from very bad living circumstances. The gap between rich and poor is growing on a global level. We just have to stay focused and open for things that really matter.
How has your new album been received by the media so far?
Benjamin - Quite positively, I have to say! I think of all three records we have put out so far, this one, at least in terms of ratings, has gotten the most positive overall reaction. I feel like quite a number of people is liking the more brutal vibe of the record. At least I haven't read anything really negative about it yet.
I know artists don¹t like to put a label on their music – but how would you describe your music to someone who’s not that familiar with metal styles?
Benjamin - When I'm asked what music we play by people who don't really have a metal background, I just describe it as Metal, hahaha...really! It's just modern Death Metal. Of course describing it to a person who's not familiar with Metal styles is kind of hard. In some cases it's enough to say “the opposite of what ABBA does”, hahahaha, did I mention we were going to record a cover version of “Dancing Queen”?
You’ve seemed to move from your original metal core style to a more death/thrash kind of style – why?
It just happened during the writing process. As I mentioned, the latest album has a more brutal vibe to it, and the melodies have been reduced. This is something that already happened between the first two albums. Take songs like “HeavenHell” or “God Forsaken Soil” off the second album for example. Those are already pretty brutal, gloomy songs. We just felt comfortable going further on this path in the creative process, away from the obvious melodies to a more massive, brutal approach. Of course the fast thrash metal parts work really well in combination with the slower double bass passages. The combination just keeps the songs interesting and fresh, and it's great to play live. The option to continue incorporating obvious melodies into the songs just didn't seem so attractive to us, we wanted to have more harshness, more brutality in the songs. The melodies are still there, you just have to look for them in different places now. But the emphasis is on the in-your-face-feeling of the songs now.
If your music was an emotion, which one would it be?
Benjamin - Desperate, angry reluctance combined with total refusal to submit. About the same emotion you have when you miss a train and you decide to walk the whole 200 km listening to Death Metal on your mp3 stick.
Who and what inspires you when you write a song? Walk us through the creation of a song?
Benjamin - The sources of inspiration keep shifting on a weekly basis. Tobi and Sebastian are the main songwriters in the band, plus Stefan who also brings riffs and most lyrics to the rehearsal space. Tobi basically spends his entire day listening to metal and playing guitar. Him, Sebbes and Stefan are the ones who put together the riffs and song structures. Stefan, me and Benny write the lyrics independently. When a song is finished, we go to the lyrics and try to see which lyrical topic or mood fits the song best in our opinion, and we combine them and give Benny a rough outline for the arrangement of the lyrics. This is the last step in the process, of course everyone in the band has to be content with the feeling of a song first, otherwise certain parts will be rearranged.
Which subjects do your lyrics refer to, and who writes them? And what inspires you when you write your lyrics?
Benjamin - As I mentioned, there are basically three people in the band who actually write final lyrics. But the inspiration comes from everyone in the band. For example, Tobi was reading the biography of Thomas Buergenthal, and he got me really interested in the story of this person, and the lyrics for “Harbinger” are based on the story of his life. So the lyrics are the product of a group effort as well, they don't only reflect one single person's views.
Who has produced and mixed the album? You’ve worked with Jacob Hansen on the last album too – why did you choose to work with him again on this one?
Benjamin - We were really content with the job that Jacob did on the last album, and it was a good feeling to go to the studio without having to adjust to any new circumstances. This was especially important due to the time frame which was even more narrow this time around. We sent a pre-production CD to Jacob so he would get a feel for the song material, and we felt comfortable because we were certain that if we told Jacob what we were aiming for, he would come up with the result we had in mind, and he did! Of course he has grown and progressed as a producer. And the result stands for itself. But Jacob didn't work alone this time, the vocal production was done simultaneously together with our friend Alexander Dietz of Heaven Shall Burn in the Rape of Harmonies studio. Ali was a great choice for the vocal production because he gave Benny a lot of creative input on how to use his voice and different ways of screaming and growling. It also gave Benny more room to try new things and to interpret things and to experiment. It wasn't like on the last two records where a song was done and the Stefan would do the lyrics with Benny according to a certain scheme. This time Benny was just more involved in the creative and musical process. The vocal production plays a great part in how the album turned out in the end.
I read somewhere on the web, that he (the reviewer) thought your album was overproduced – what do you think of that?
Benjamin - Well, to me that's just a matter of taste, really...To me it would not really make sense to go to a professional studio, pay a lot of money, and then try to get a result that sounds like it's been recorded with a tape deck...The production fits the songs really well, and the massive sound is just what we wanted. To me it's just important that an album blows you away, and the sound is a very important element of the equation...We tuned down the guitars half a note before entering the studio, so trying to go for what we thought was the fattest and most massive sound, that just made sense to us. What may seem overproduced to one person is the best possible result for me. Tastes differ...
Was anything in the way you did the preparations for going to the studio, and how you did the recording sessions different from the last album?
Benjamin - As I mentioned, we shifted the entire vocal production to the Rape of Harmonies studio, and we had not done a pre-production before. We also rearranged one song in the studio, and Tobias and Sebastian wrote one song in the studio.
Who has done the artwork? And how important do you feel it is to have a great cover?
Benjamin - The artwork was done by Terje Johnsen from Norway, who has also done stuff for Heaven Shall Burn, Keep of Kalessin and others. I think it's very important to try to visualize what the title or music is about, and to try to capture the vibe and feeling of the record. As I mentioned, of all three albums I am most content with this one, also because the music and the visual part form such a great unit. That was something that was really important to me, and Terje was really great to work with. I remember there were days when I almost spent like 8 to 9 hours in the chat with him, and he would keep sending awesome stuff that really amazed me. He was very cool to work with. I also have to stress the fact that in the metal scene, more than in any other music scene, the aspect of how the artwork is put together plays an important role, because the “owning” factor, the feeling of holding something in your hands, is really important to the fans in this genre. I have to give credit to the metal fans for this attitude.
Do you have any touring plans?
Benjamin - We will be playing two more single shows, and then we will be doing our first headlining tour with Deadlock from October 19th to November 3rd, whereas the last show of this tour will be without Deadlock. The plans for what's to come after that are still in the works, but we are pretty close to confirming new dates.
Let’s speculate – you have been granted a free slot on a tour of your own choice – who would be your ideal touring partners, and what kind of tour would it be?
Benjamin - It would be a dream to me to go on tour with Lamb of God, I'm a really big fan. It would also be cool to do another tour with our friends of Heaven Shall Burn. Bolt Thrower and Behemoth would also be very interesting to play with. The Black Dahlia Murder or Unearth would also be awesome to tour with I think. I also like Satyricon a lot, and Hatebreed too...another tour with Caliban would be great as well! I think the most important thing that you have a diverse package with bands from different subgenres of Metal, I think that's cooler to watch for people than 5 bands of the same style...that just becomes boring.
How do you feel about the co-operation with your label Metal Blade?
Benjamin - We are all still very thankful that Metal Blade put their trust in us and gave us a recording contract. They have done a lot for us, without them we would not have been able to play the first HELL ON EARTH tour with As I Lay Dying, Heaven Shall Burn and others, which was a great experience. They have really done a lot to promote the new album, and it paid off I think, we just learned the other day that we entered the German album charts in slot 65. Without the support of Metal Blade, this wouldn't have been possible.
The internet is a very important source for many metal fans – how do you use the internet and how important is it for you and other bands?
Benjamin - Of course the Internet is also our main source and means of communication. We have our website, www.neaera.com, and our myspace profile under www.myspace.com/neaera.
What I like about it is that it's really great for keeping in touch with our supporters, we love to get reactions from people who come to our shows and who listen to our music. Their opinion is very important to us and for every band I think, so staying in touch with the people who devote their time to your music is essential and vital.
And how do you feel about the metal scene in general at the moment?
Benjamin - I think the metal scene is stronger than ever before. The metal scene has grown over decades and always spawned new and interesting bands. Metal fans, of all music fans, are those who have the most balls and backbone. If you look at most of the pop bullshit that is present in the media today, and at the same time you see that the Metal scene keeps pushing forward with bands like Machine Head, As I Lay Dying, Lamb of God so many others, and at the same time bands like Slayer, who have been around for more than twenty years, it becomes obvious that Metal is a really strong and authentic counterpart to the plastic, fake pop crap that is broadcast and promoted today.
Which song do you consider to be the best one you have ever written?
Benjamin - I like all the songs we play. I would say my favourite songs to play live “Paradigm Lost”, “The World Devourers”, “Scars of Gray” and “Where Submission Reigns”.
Name an album, person or event that has had a huge influence on your life … and why?
Benjamin - I would have to say my girlfriend and my family are the persons who have the most influence on my life. Without their support I would not be able to focus on the band. They're awesome.
Which music do you listen to at home?
Benjamin - When I'm at home I try to listen to some more relaxed music, like Bohren & der Club of Gore, a german jazz band, or Godspeed You! Black Emperor, but when Metal Blade sends new promos, I listen to those a lot, and also when I'm working out, then it just has to be Metal! I can't lift weights or run an hour without Metal.
Vinyl has had a small comeback lately – do you still prefer “the old sound” or are you a CD/DVD kind of guy?
Benjamin - I have to admit I'm more of a CD/DVD guy, I've never been that much of a vinyl nerd. Tobi has some pretty rare stuff, but I'm more easily satisfied I guess, hahaha... I also like the fact that you can do so much via DVD...like the “Killadelphia” DVD by Lamb of God...Great thing, it offers you great insight on the band, I like when DVDs are used to get the band closer to the fan.
Last question - do you have any famous last words for our readers?
Benjamin - Thanks for your interest in our band, sorry for taking so long for the Interview...hahahaha...I hope we will return to Denmark sometime soon and see you guys in the pit! Jeg elsker dig, tag mig som jeg er ;)! Stay Metal!
Interviewed by Claus Melsen.