Interview with Philipp Hanfland, guitar - Burden of Grief, July 2010

German band Burden of Grief releases its 5th album within a few days. With this album they go all the way. They put in all their energy and money to make it a successful album, time will tell if they succeeded. We asked Philipp all about the band and the new record.

5 albums in about 10 years, satisfied with how things have gone since the band started?

Philipp Hanfland: Well, it's been 10 years since our first album came out. But the roots of BURDEN OF GRIEF go actually back to 1994. But the first years were pretty much some kind of first musical steps of absolute greenhorns, haha. We definitely needed some years to grow and to develope music we could unleash to the world. But if we take a look to the last 10 years things went pretty good for us, I think. We got the opportunity to release 5 records worldwide, to work with some highly recognized producers and to play many shows all across Europe.

Your debut 'Haunting Requiems' has been re-released last year, has it been re-mastered and are there bonus tracks on it?

Philipp: Yes, some day I got the request by Polish label Metal Mind records, who asked us to re-release our first album 'Haunting Requiems'. It made us a little bit proud that there's still a certain interest in that old stuff. So we tried to make this re-release as interesting as possible for the fans. The songs have been remastered and we added 4 old demo-songs to it, that have never been released on CD before. The booklet is also completely re-designed with tons of old photos and stuff. This re-release is also limited to 2000 copies and comes in a DigiPack design. So in my opinion it turned out to be a very valuable re-release.

Enough of  the past. There are 10 new songs (intro excluded) on your new album, can you tell something about the writing process of a Burden of Grief song?

Philipp: While most of the material of our last album 'Death End Road' was written by myself, the songwriting of the new album was pretty much a cooperation between me, Joe and even our drummer Robb. The main structure of 'The Arms Of Death' and 'Rise Like A Phoenix' are composed by him. He came to us with some drum-recordings and Joe wrote some riffs to these finished drum-parts. We have never done anything like this before. I think that this diversity is the strength of 'Follow The Flames'. There are as many influences and ideas as we have never had on one of our previous records. Sometimes it can be very hard to put the ideas of 3 different persons together on an album. Then you have to make a lot of compromises. But this time we had the feeling that nobody of us has to make big compromises. All ideas complemented to each other in a great way.

Of course the latest record is always the best, but what makes this album differ the most from the one before 'Death End Road'?

Philipp: The most important differences between these 2 records are the production and the influences of the other guys in the band. How I said before, 'Death End Road' was pretty much MY album, because I wrote 90% of the material. So the musical direction of that album was much more unbalanced. I'm not that kind of person who just accept his own ideas. I am pleased about every idea of the other guys that I have never dreamed about. The musical range of 'Follow The Flames' is much wider than it was on 'Death End Road'. The other important aspect is of course the production. Back then we thought it might be a good idea to work with a trigger-drumsound. But we had no experience with that technique, so that this idea turned out to be the worst idea we ever had. With 'Follow The Flames' we didn't want to make this mistake again and we were looking for a very natural and organic but very heavy sound, not only for the drums but also for the guitars.

Who is responsible for the lyrics and what are they about? Is there a kind of theme or concept, or are it all separate stories?

Philipp: Since the early days Mike writes all of our lyrics. So it's often hard to me to explain the lyrics that came out of the mind of somebody else. But we never had anything like a theme or a lyrical concept on our album. All songs deal about very different aspects of life (and also death). Some lyrics are purely fictional, some lyrics are about individual experiences. So it's hard to talk about our lyrics in general. I prefer that the interested fans just read the lyrics and they will find out what Mike wanted to express.

Did you have a big budget for the recordings and the production? With Dan Swanö behind the buttons and with cover artwork done by Gustavo Saves, the band is going all the way.

Philipp: You must not forget that we had 3 years to save our money, hehe. You are right, working together with people like Dan Swanö  and Gustavo Saves isn't very cheap. But we wanted to get the best-sounding and best-looking result that was possible for us. Of course we couldn't finance such an album-production every year. And times are getting harder and the sales are getting fewer. But on the other hand it becomes more and more affordable to produce and to record the music in small homestudios. Here you can also save a lot of money.

Who's idea was it to choose Dan Swanö?

Philipp: Some time ago I heard about Dan's re-entry into the production business. As far as I know he used to work in the old Unisound studios, where all his famous productions were made, from Dissection to Edge Of Sanity. These studio doesn't exist anymore, though he has bought back some of the studio-equipment from that old studio and opened a new studio under the banner of Unisound. But this new Unisound studio isn't an usual recording studio. It is just a mix & mastering studio. So he can offer much better rates than most of the common recording-studios. Before we started to work together on 'Follow The Flames' we talked a lot about our ideas and the direction we wanted that album to go. And Dan turned out to be a very cool and open-minded guy who was willing to try out some different stuff. We didn't want this typical Swedish death metal sound he is famous for. We wanted a much more organic and natural sound with some rock-vibes in it. And we had much fun to follow this idea.

The band mixes thrash, with death and metal core parts, but who are the bands main influences?

Philipp: Well, we are 5 individuals with very different influences. So I can only speak for my own. The greatest bands of all time in my opinion are Metallica, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and Slayer. These are the 'Big Four' for me, and everything I learned I learned from them. But during the last years I got more and more into this 70s southern stoner rock metal stuff, with bands like Spiritual Beggars, Black Label Society, Down, Black Stone Cherry and so on. And some elements of this kind of music you will also find in our new songs, for example the use of a Hammond organ which is quite unusual for Melodic Thrash/ Death, I think. But you dont have to forget that especially on 'Follow The Flames' we had 3 different songwriters with different tastes of music.

Can you tell us something about the guests playing along on the album, are they all good friends?

Philipp: As we planned to do this cover-album we also talked about getting some guest-musicians to make these songs even more interesting for the fans. After all the years on the road we played with many well-known and famous bands, but most of them we have never met backstage for a talk or anything like that. But Gerre and Sabina aren't these kind of rockstars. We have played some shows together with Tankard and Holy Moses and as we asked them to join us on our new record they immediately agreed. And as we decided to give the mix and the mastering of this album into Dan Swanö''s hands, we asked him too, of course. For us and especially for me it is a huge honour to have these people singing on our record. All these guys are the heads of bands that I listen to for about 20 years. When I was a kid I even had a Tankard backpatch. And the very first live-concert that I wanted to visit was the 1990 festival of Holy Moses own West-Virginia-Records label. Unfortunately it has been cancelled some weeks before.

Your 2001 album was released by Massacre Records too, after that you left them, how did Massacre get interested in the band again?

Philipp: As we recognized how strong 'Follow The Flames' would turn out, we decided to find another record label that would be able to promote this new album in a better and more professional way than Remedy Records were able to do. As we came to Remedy Records with our 2003 album 'Fields Of Salvation' they did a fantastic and passionate job. But during the last years we felt that they didn't concentrate on the label-activity as they could have done. And many other bands have left Remedy Records over the last years, too.

We have put so much blood, sweat and money into our new album, therefore we wanted to look for another label who might be able to bring us to some kind of a higher level. So we asked Massacre Records again and they also recognized the huge development between our 2001 album 'On Darker Trails' and the new one. And now we are really looking forward to work with Massacre Records again.

Record sales are still going down and a band has to do something to sell albums, is this the idea behind the extra bonus-CD with 8 cover songs?

Philipp: Yes, this was definitely one of our intentions. We wanted to offer the fans the best product we were able to create. Our own songs should be as strong as possible, the production and the complete album-artwork should be a good as possible, and last but not least we wanted to give the fans, who spend their money to purchase our CD, a worthy bonus. Nowadays you can find many new albums that come along with some kind of bonus-CDs. But most of this bonus-material are very often boring studio-reports and low-budget live-videos. But we offer the fans an additional complete album. Many other bands would release such a bonus-CD with 8 coversong as a separate album. But on the other hand it was also a deep wish for us to record some of our own favourite songs. It has always been a huge fun for us to play covers. And now we got the opportunity to share some of these covers with our fans.

A wide variety of bands with very different styles are covered, how did the band choose the different bands and songs?

Philipp: As I said before we are 5 individuals with 5 very different tastes of music. So it became harder and harder to choose a cover-song for our live-shows that everybody of us really like. So we came along with the idea that each of us had to choose 1 song without considering the  opinion of the others. Everybody had the opportuniy to take a song that he always wanted to cover. The results that came out of this decision were Whitesnake, The Doors, Sepultura, AC/DC and Blind Guardian. The other 3 songs were covers that we have played over the last years anyway. I also think that it is a nice retrospective view on 40 years of rock and metal music.

A new album, means going on tour? Any plans?

Philipp: Yes, of course. We can't wait to get out on the road again to play these new stuff live. The first shows in Germany and Switzerland are already booked. And now we are working on much more shows to come...

Suppose you are asked to make a kind of  package with 5 CD' s in it for people that have never listened to 'good' music before, which 5 CD's would you put into that package?

1. Metallica - Master Of Puppets
2. Iron Maiden - Somewhere In Time
3. Black Sabbath - Heaven And Hell
4. Rainbow - Stargazer
5. Slayer - Decade Of Aggression 

It took me 2 seconds to think about that ;-)

Anything else you want to share with our readers?

Philipp: I thank you for your interest in BURDEN OF GRIEF and I hope that I could arouse the interest of many of your readers, too. I promise that you won't regret to give our new album a try. And I hope to see many of you soon on the road.

Thanks for answering the questions, hope to see you somewhere on the road!

Interviewed by Reinier de Vries

Burden of Grief - Follow the Flames

Album available on Massacre Records.