Brainstorm – Metal OutlawsThursday, 23rd September 2021
Returning for their thirteenth studio album Wall of Skulls, Brainstorm has nothing to prove to the metal community regarding the quality of their output. Striving to maintain consistency in their heavy brand of power metal, it’s rare that an act with this depth in a catalog can still adhere to a strong songwriting/ performance output and offer the listeners possibly the catchiest hooks, riffs, melodies, and harmonies of their career. That’s what you will get on this record though – focused material with that attention to detail and craft that makes for long-lasting appeal.
We reached out to vocalist Andy B. Franck on Skype and had an enjoyable half hour discussion on the new record, thoughts on guest performances from Peavy (Rage) and producer Seeb Levermann (Orden Ogan), what Seeb has done as a producer to make these last two albums so special, thoughts on the changes over the past couple of years in metal during the pandemic, and also honest thoughts on what success means to the band given a specific career decision that could have changed the career arc of the band.
Dead Rhetoric: Wall of Skulls is the latest Brainstorm album. You mention in the background information that your previous album Midnight Ghost was an important record for the group this deep into your career. Now having a few years to reflect upon things, what made that album so special – and a logical launching point to move forward with a stronger focus and outlook on this record?
Andy B. Franck: To be very honest, I don’t really have an answer to that because we went into the studio like we always did, but we had somebody else sitting behind the mixing desk who works differently to all the other people that we have already worked with. I would say that Seeb Levermann was and still is a big part of the reason why Midnight Ghost sounds like it sounds. The way he works, the way he treated us, is a little bit different than the way more of the other guys we worked with. I call Seeb a real producer, but other guys that call themselves producers they are more or less engineers. Because they record whatever I sing into the microphone, they just record it, say ‘got it’, it’s okay and then move on.
The main reason why you can call Seeb a producer is because he works with you, he kicks you in the ass. Until he gets the best out of you. We started focusing more on the song itself and not to lose ourselves in parts here and there. We used to do that in the past on some songs, but since Midnight Ghost things sound very fresh, very heavy, and very catchy but not in a childish way. To my ears, Midnight Ghost was a turning point in our career, as much as for instance Soul Temptation or Liquid Monster has been back in the day.
At the end, to me we are still able after so many years to bring back old fans and gain new fans with our 12th and 13th albums. I think Wall of Skulls is the next step, the next level after Midnight Ghost.
Dead Rhetoric: Because of COVID, you personally were able to place more work vocally on this record than ever before. What specific areas do you think you took more time on, and were there certain songs you can think of that benefitted from this objective, critical set of thoughts in this downtime?
Franck: I would say all the songs. Because of this, it sounds strange but this situation one and a half years ago was a gift to us. We were more or less ready to enter the studio in the spring of 2020, but then we received this phone call that we were not allowed to meet up with each other to enter the studio. We had to reschedule the whole thing, then I started to talk to the other guys in the band to say that I’m not 100% sure if this is the right follow-up to Midnight Ghost. From the first second on, I felt sure that we could do better. We did have the time to work on the songs during the summer to work on the songs until we entered the studio again in October 2020. Why not arranging, rearranging parts, taking out stuff, writing some new stuff, and so on. And that’s what we did in the end.
We went back into our rehearsal room, together to get on the songs. Then when I came home I deleted everything I had recorded for my vocals, started from summer on. My wife was totally upset about this, she had to listen to the same songs again, more or less (laughs). But different vocal lines. To us it was the perfect thing. For example a song like “Glory Disappears”. The original version of the song was about eight minutes long, and then we cut it down to about 3:50 or so. This is what the song is all about. And the rest wasn’t as important. That’s the thing we learned a lot during the pandemic. We took more focus of the song itself, and not lose ourselves somewhere. We talked about it with Seeb. We have to focus more on the songs. That’s worked out very well to us.
Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the other first in Brainstorm’s career with a couple of vocal duets on “Escape the Silence” featuring Peavy of Rage and “Turn Off the Light” with producer/Orden Ogan frontman Seeb Levermann? Why do you think the band had waited so long to consider these special moments on a record?
Franck: I have no idea, because it’s been my wish for so many years. I have always wanted to have something like this on an album, but I also want it to be special. In both cases, Seeb and Peavy are people that take care of their voices. They aren’t singing on so many albums and projects – or featured on them. They decide very carefully where to sing and what to sing, and that’s very important. It makes me very proud that they are a part of this Brainstorm album. It’s the first time we’ve done this since I have been a part of the band.
Again this year I talked to Seeb about this – and he asked me who was I talking about. I told him I had a few guys from America, from Sweden, from England, in mind. And then he said, so you are talking about those guys, but why not talk to somebody you already know. You are good friends, you grew up together, hung out together, and he lives more or less near the studio. And we called Peavy, from the first second on he said it was cool – I will record whatever you want. When we hung out – it made sense. Now we had an old German metal icon being featured on the album, I would like to have a new, modern German metal hero to be featured on the album as well. He looked at me and asked, who are we talking about? I looked at him, and said, ‘ah come on Seeb- don’t ask!’. It’s a silly answer. It was my chance to kick his ass to bring him into the recording room. I love both parts, the way Peavy and Seeb sing on the album. It fits, it totally makes sense. It’s a perfect combination to me. We didn’t do this for the money or anything like that. It happened out of friendship, and this is way more than we can expect.
I knew right away Wall of Skulls would be a special album, but these two guest appearances make this album way more special to me than I ever thought.
Dead Rhetoric: What did you enjoy most about the process of working with Seeb in Greenman Studios as a producer again? In a previous talk we did with him, he mentioned the fact that you placed a lot of trust in his abilities and objective outlook at your songwriting, often making suggestions that you may not have considered for the greater good of the final tracks…
Franck: I think he is a producer. That is the main difference. He becomes something like the sixth member of the band. When you enter the studio, he already knows the songs. He wants to have the demo tapes, the rough versions with no real lyrics. Then he makes up his mind about the music, and he starts thinking about the music like being a band member. He is not sitting there behind the mixing desk talking to you from somewhere else. I really like this about that situation working with him.
He is not the guy who is changing the songs. He is just arranging parts here, rearranging there, not in a big way. He brings some ideas, but he is totally focused on the parts to bring the best out of you. He will get you in the recording room and have you sing for one and a half hours the same sentence. That is what he did with “Glory Disappears” on the first verse. I was so upset and singing the same sentence. He was fixing every tone and every note, the computer could do that, but what the computer can’t do is bring some emotion into that. Thank God the computer can’t do this. And at the end he lets you hear the difference between the first version and the last version, then you can hear the differences. And that is what the album is all about – making it as perfect as possible (laughs).
Dead Rhetoric: We know the title of the record probably made the cover art by Gyula Havancsak an easier effort to inspire his creativity. What are your thoughts on his final output this go around?
Franck: Torsten just asked me if we could have an album title which is heavy, which sounds like being perfect for a heavy metal band. And then I made up my mind, the situation going on with so many wars, so many riots, terrorism around the world. And you have people dying on both sides, and both sides are never ever talking to the other anymore. There is so much hate, anger, fear, and revenge. This is a wall they build up in their minds and in their heads, and they will never jump over. Their fathers, daughters, brothers, or mothers got killed by the other guys on the other side, so they want to kill. The skull is just a symbol for so many dead people, different cultures and religions.
So I told Torsten about it but I had no real idea how to bring it out on paper. I had a few discussions with Gyula, and he just tried to bring the best out of my ideas – it never really worked out well. For the first time ever, I had to step back and tell Torsten if he had an idea, do so. I didn’t hear anything from them for weeks, I was afraid what it would look like. One day I received this email, looked at it, and it was 90% of what we ended up with, I was so blown away by it. As far as Torsten’s interpretation, it was a perfect cover art and album title. The original idea of the title was not something very positive.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the state of heavy metal considering how 2020 and most of 2021 changed the landscape because of COVID-19 and the lack of touring/festival opportunities? Do you believe people care more now about albums and recordings than ever before, and will savor/treasure live shows once things are safe to come back?
Franck: I hope so. I hope that the people are taking care about the quality of the music. What I do miss over the last couple of years, the seriousness in metal. When I grew up in metal, we had bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motörhead, this was heavy metal to me. It was a lifestyle, we were some kind of outlaws, they looked at us differently because of the long hair, these are people that are not part of our society. I think about the last couple of years, the metal scene became more of a comedy thing. There are people making metal music that have nothing to do in real life with metal – they know you can make money with it. They laugh about the fans. Sometimes when you play big festivals you see certain bands laughing backstage at the fans out there – you know they aren’t really into metal. I would love to see fans reacting on that. Let people know who is honest and really behind this music, the metal community doesn’t have to be so big but supporting the real idea behind heavy metal. I hope this whole situation brings things back a little more, away from the comedy aspects and more into serious metal things.
I’m not sure, because I am afraid with no festivals going on, no parties, whenever you are allowed to go to a big festival again, everybody who is a fan metal or not, they are going to a concert and partying besides the bands.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you define success these days when it comes to Brainstorm – and has your definition changed from your early time joining the group until now?
Franck: Yes, the definition has changed. The definition has changed a lot. When we released albums like Soul Temptation and Liquid Monster, we were some kind of the next big thing. The albums sold amazing, the tours were amazing, we were playing in front of thousands of people every night. We had a number one hit in Hungary with “All Those Words”, for example. It was cool and fine with us. And then we received an offer from one of the big management companies in the world, to sign with them and join their roster. We would have gone on tour for at least three hundred dates a year. This would have meant of course a big metal career. This is something I always wanted to have in my life.
When I started making music at the age of fourteen and fifteen, I always wanted to become a rock star to be honest. To play as many shows as possible to play to as many people as possible. When you are around twenty-eight, twenty-nine and you have this contract in front of you, this is your chance and the party will go on. That would have meant also we would have lost our day jobs, lost our families more or less because no wife could deal with this, being away for more than three hundred days a year. We knew from the first second on that this could be something that could last for two, three, maybe four albums. I’m pretty sure if we had signed this deal we would have released two or three more albums, but then the band would have broken up.
That was the reason with tears in our eyes that we did not sign the deal. For the next few years, I was not sure if it was the right decision or not. After I have seen so many bands going up and then other bands going down, and we are still around to play festivals, we are still going on tour, and playing big shows and release albums to surprise people with our thirteenth album now, in the end this was the right decision. We are still recording, and we have released some of the best albums over the last few years. Firesoul is a good one, Midnight Ghost, and now Wall of Skulls. I’m not sure if these albums would have been released when we would have signed that management deal fifteen years ago. It was a tough decision to be honest. We had the chance and the pens in our hands. We decided to have our day jobs, families, bills paid at the end of the month.
The moment when we didn’t sign the contract, I was not in a good condition for the next years (laughs). That was probably the time when I started releasing more albums just to work, and not think about it.
Dead Rhetoric: You recently took the time to go to a racetrack with your son – how did this experience come about?
Franck: (laughs). It was his eighteenth birthday, and I gave him something special. He was always talking about fast cars and driving fast. He’s cool with it, the faster the car goes, no problem. I wanted to find something that would shake his boots. We brought him over – at eighteen they all try to be cool and not smile. When he stepped out of my car and he heard those engines roaring, he just started to smile from one ear to the other. When he came out of the race car, all of his bones were shaking. I just looked at him, and learned he was afraid a bit of the speed and horsepower of these cars.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for the next twelve months for Brainstorm to support the new record?
Franck: Until two days ago, the agenda was to go on tour, and be on the road for the first leg of Europe. Because of COVID-19, we have to move everything to 2022. We were so excited to go, two weeks ago we played a festival in the Czech Republic which was amazing. It felt like having sex – or afterwards- for the first time. We were nervous, the first two songs we were all shaking. It felt so good, the excitement was there. The situation in Europe makes it impossible to calculate when a tour can happen.
For the next couple of months, we will try to play some single shows whenever possible. Some winter festivals if they are allowed. The tour will be moved to March-April 2022. We want to play as many songs from the new album as possible. We have a great stage setup and design, everything is ready to go up on stage. We don’t want to have to play venues where the capacities may have to be limited to one hundred or so. It doesn’t make any sense to us. Sad but true.