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EQUILIBRIUM


EQUILIBRIUM "Folk Off and Die!"


Interview by Dr. Abner Mality

 In case you hadn't noticed, the pagans are back! At least in the metal world. Along with the return of oldschool thrash, probably the biggest trend in metal is the uprising of bands combining folk elements with heavy metal. Folk metal, Viking metal, pagan metal...this subgenre has a confusing plethora of names, but common elements remain. Bands like Eluveitie, Tyr, Turisas and Korpiklaani are leading the heathen hordes in a new wave of conquest. But now I want to turn to the newest and deadliest of these warriors...Germany's raging masters of epic folk metal, Equilibrium.

The band made a splash in Europe with a well-regarded debut "Turis Fratyr", but with their Nuclear Blast debut "Sagas", all bets are off. I was totally knocked off my feet by this incredible example of FIERCE and HEAVY metal mastery. The disc combines the furious blasting of black metal with the bombastic majesty of power metal and a sense of classical and symphonic grandeur worthy of an entire orchestra. This is really a special album that can reach across genre lines to quicken the pagan heart in listeners of all stripes.

I knew I had to get in touch with the creators of such a masterpiece, so I finally hooked up with throat-ripping singer and lyricist Helge Stange. Instead of talking about the hammers of Thor's Legions and lust for Christian death, the laidback Helge instead held forth on who his favorite Simpsons character was, what the best German beer was and other non-barbaric subjects. Oh yeah, he also found time to tell me all about the improbably rise of Equilbrium...

The mead is cold and the barmaids are hot as we gather to discuss "Sagas" and much else...


WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Your new album "Sagas" was one of the biggest surprises of the year for me. I understand the band was only supposed to last for one show when it started. Did somebody dare you to put together a band?

HELGE STANG: There's a funny story behind this. Back in those days, our band leader Rene was asked to play a concert in a church and he didn't have a band at this time. He had been a musician his whole life so he said, "yeah, of course I will play with my band"...but he didn't have a band! Therefore he gathered up some people like me and said, hey, how about doing a cover song concert with me? It was a tiny concert, only a few people, I said "yes, of course, let's do this!". So we trained with some cover songs of Dimmu Borgir, Hypocrisy and things like that. We played the show and it was a lot of fun. It was so much fun, especially the after party, that we decided to do it one more time and after the second gig, we decided to go on and form an actual ongoing band instead of a project.

WC: Do you have all the same members?

HS: No, no, it has changed a lot. The core is still the same, Rene and me. The bass player Sandra and her brother Andy are the same. But on the drumkit, we've had lots of changes, its hard to remember how many drummers we've had since then. We used to have a live keyboardist,too. Those two positions have changed a lot. We gave up on the keyboard a few years ago because the keyboard became more and more difficult to play, especially live. We couldn't find any keyboardists who were up to the task, so we said, OK, let's just do this from a Minidisk. That's what we're doing now...we used a hard disk player for all the keyboard parts. We didn't find anybody who could play all this shit. Even a good keyboardist would have to do a lot on stage and I don't know if one person alone could play all this stuff on stage. There's a lot of tracks...horns here, strings there, sound effects and all kinds of things going on at once. It would be very difficult for one person.

WC: Are your drummer problems solved now?

HS: Yes! Fortunately! Two years ago I was in a pub and a guy came up to me and said he knew another guy who was a very talented drummer. You should use Youtube to look up Equilbrium and you'll find him playing a cover of your band. I found the clip and forwarded it to Rene and said, fuck, we have to get this guy because he was 16 years old and played like hell! Rene took the drum line from the Youtube video and just edited into the existing song from the last album and it fit perfectly. He said, OK, this guy is very good, we've got to have him. We went to his home and talked to him a little. We were thinking "we have to have this guy" and he was thinking "they have to take me"! (laughter) We played one concert together and that was it. He's been in the band ever since.

WC: That was an amazing stroke of luck!

HS: Really!

WC: The lyrics to your songs are all in German. How important is that to you and do you think that it will ever change?

HS: When we decided to play more than just one concert, we knew we had to come up with our own songs. From our last album "Turis Fratyr", one of our most popular songs was "Mede" and another one was "Sturm". I had to decide at this time whether I use English or German. As you can hear right now, my English is not that good (chuckles) therefore, after a while, I thought, why the hell should I use English when I know German best and I can express myself best in my own language. It's not usual that a metal band has German lyrics. Let's try German...it's a little bit harder, but the people understand what I am saying and I can't be singing any crap because of this...

WC: You have to know what's coming out of your mouth...

HS: Exactly. It improves the quality of the content of my lyrics. The fact that people immediately understood what I was singing was a good bonus for us and made us popular in Germany.

WC: I don't think singing in your native language is as big an issue as it would have been in the 80's. In the early 90's, the Norwegian black metal bands all started to use their own language and were successful with it. That broke down some of the walls. Speaking of the lyrics, do you write all of them?

HS: Yeah, yeah,. On the last album, I used a lot of Northern mythology, especially the Edda, but I'm starting to distance myself from that. I'm not that young anymore and I can tell my own stories, I've grown a little and can do my own stuff. Most of them are now completely freestyle. There's no more mythological relationship anymore.

WC: So "Sagas" is all your own imagination?

HS: Almost, yes. There's one song, "Der Sangers Fluch", which is very influenced by an old German ballad. I read this story once and said, oh fuck, this is really good stuff, I have to use this sometime! Rene came up with music that perfectly matched the story so I then came up with an interpretation of the story. It's about two bards in ancient times walking across the land and they are so great as musicians and storytellers that one winds up dying because of his skill.

WC: One of the things that makes Equilbrium different from other folk metal bands is that there are no real clean vocals. Is that something you intend to stick with or will you add those kind of vocals later on?

HS: I have to say that I am pretty realistic...I'm not a singer! (laughs) I can't do clean vocals...it does not sound good! I can't sing in clean style. I tried this, of course, but I think you either have a good singer's voice or you don't. My voice is not made to sing cleanly. If I tried to do that, I'd wind up sounding like other bands who try to sing clean when they can't...really bad! I stay with harsh and grunt vocals...this stuff I can do well, but nothing more.

WC: Your black metal screams are very scary! Do those vocals come naturally to you or do you you have to work at it?

HS: Yes, you have to work at it. It was a long procedure to find my own way to sing this way, especially for a couple of hours straight. In the studio, you're singing all the time. It took a few years to find my way and now I realize that this is not a God-given talent. I have to work at this and train for it. Before recording, I was exercising my voice every second night...I needed one night to recover. This is really necessary to do.

WC: "Sagas" starts out very fast and furious and as the album goes on, the songs get longer and more epic and finally it ends with a big 16 minute track. Was that your plan from the beginning?

HS: We thought a lot about the position of the songs on the album. The only decision was to put the fast songs on first and then become slower and more epic. We often compared the album to a big party. A party starts fast and furious with everybody drinking and then at some point, everybody gets tired and lazy and sits around drinking a beer. It's the same with the album...it becomes more quiet. There is one short rise...one attempt to reanimate the party...this is our song "Ruf In Den Wind". It's a very quick one. And then we fade out...well, maybe not a fade out...

WC: The last two tracks are still pretty heavy...

HS: Yes. Of course, the last song "Mana" can only exist at the end of the album. It would make no sense for it to be anywhere else.

WC: Was it always your plan to be heavier and more aggressive than most bands in the folk metal genre?

HS: Well, we don't have any plans for Equilbrium...we are always in development and always changing. For example, the lyrics started with a heavy influence from Northern mythology and have developed into more personal lyrics. The same with the music. Of course, there are many bands who influenced us, but meanwhile, we are growing all the time and we dare to do things no one has done before. Take our song "Unbesiegt"...it is definitely like a heavy metal samba, it's Brazillian influenced. With 'Ruf In Den Wind", we use pan pipes from Bolivia. We use anything that helps the song, no matter what it is.

WC: I really love the song "Snuffel"...it had such a great thrash metal groove to it. A real headbanging song! I was very pleased by the variety of the album. Do you have any idea how you will follow up "Sagas"?

HS: Of course, because more and more people ask this question. I think the next album may be more quiet, more chilled. "Sagas" is a very fast album...the next may be more nature related and romantic. But no song has really been written and we'll see what's coming up. It will be a little more chilled than "Sagas".

WC: Do you guys play live a lot and do you think you might play in the States?


HS: We had an offer to play in the States. We're doing a 17 date tour across Europe this autumn and they said there will 3 more weeks in the US to tour. But it's very difficult for us because a lot of us are students and employees. We need to coordinate the tours. I need to get time off work and it's not easy to get such a large amount of time off. But it would be a lot of fun. We are thinking hard about it...we will see how it develops.

WC: We just had a recent tour here called Paganfest with bands like Korpiklaani and Eluveitie that was pretty successful.

HS: The tour I was talking about was the follow-up to that, called HEiden fest, which is Heathenfest. Some bands on that package will be coming to the US and they asked us to come over as well. At this time, it won't be possible, but maybe next time. To answer your main question, we have a lot of concerts. It's funny, because this summer is pretty laidback for us. The album came out so late that we couldn't get booked on the summer festivals. We had the whole summer to ourselves and then we start up in the fall again with some gigs in Spain and Portugal.

WC: Now let's move on to a subject I'm told you're very interested in. Who's your favorite Simpsons character?

HS: (laughter) I've been watching the Simpsons for many years and my personal identification figure has changed a little. In the old days, I identified more with Bart but now it's more Homer!

WC: (laughter) Everybody turns from Bart into Homer!

HS: Drinking beer and getting drunk and working every day...

WC: I kind of see myself as Monty Burns a little more.(laughter). Because he's rich and runs the town!

HS: Monty Burns...

WC: The other guy I like is Apu. In America, almost every gas station is run by a guy like Apu.

HS: (laughs) OK! In Germany, we don't have this!!

WC: Another subject I hear you're interested in is beer. What's your favorite beer and are there any good American beers in your opinion?

HS: Whoa! My favorite beer is called Augustina Helle. You would call this a lager and this one is best because you can drink a lot of it and not get a headache next day. As for American beers, there are not a lot of them coming to my mind. Here in Bavaria, there is no need to import beer from the other side of the world because we already have the best beer here.

WC: I don't think any mass produced American beer is going to cut it in Germany. There are probably some pretty good microbrews. But nobody in Bavaria is going to drink a Budweiser, that's for sure.

HS: Yeah, in fact, Budweiser is the only brand coming to mind.

WC: What was the last CD or album you got just because you wanted to pick it up?

HS: Hmmmm....this might have been been "Grey Dawn" by October Tide. It's doom metal. They're a good band that had an early album which is way up on my list of favorites. "Grey Dawn" is the new one and I like this style. I prefer the more chilled kind of metal myself.

WC: You like the doomier stuff, huh?

HS: Not always! I also like porngrind and goregrind and hardcore as well. It doesn't fit at all with the other stuff l listen to, which is a lot of acoustic and folk-influenced music. I don't have to have distorted electric guitars in my music. We're still into a lot of black and death metal and all this shit but its different from when we were kids. If I am actively listening to music, most of the time I want to relax.

WC: What was the last gig or concert you saw?

HS: Oooh, this is a long time ago. I think it was Agalloch I saw when they played a long time ago in Munich. I really wanted to see them.

WC: In the long history of Equilibrium, has there been any Spinal Tap moment that you'd care to share with the fans?

HS: I have to confess, I haven't seen the movie yet. Something really crazy, huh? (laughs) One time we had two bass players because SOMEBODY was a little confused and hired two guys to play the bass. Fuck, how do we get out of this? Fortunately, the singer shit his pants and said "I quit, I can't do this, it's too hard for me" and then one of the bass players...ahem...switched over to lead vocals.

WC: That must have been lucky for him!

HS: Yes, I know him very well! (laughs)

WC: Any last words for the fans?

HS: For the fans in the US? We will meet! Hopefully very soon!