Disbelief – War of the Mind

Tuesday, 9th April 2024

Photo: Axel Jusseit

A staple of the German metal scene, Disbelief have been plugging away since 1990 combining aspects of groove, sludge, thrash and death into their sound. Killing Karma is the group’s latest effort – emphasizing more of the death metal side of their heaviness, without sacrificing the purity and raw power that always comes through their songwriting. We reached out to vocalist Karsten Jäger to learn more about how this record moved into more of a death direction, what their latest drummer Timo Claas brings to the table for the group, thoughts on the lyrical themes of war and true crime stories that prop up, highlight memories of Wacken, Dynamo, Death Angel and Bolt Thrower, where the underground is alive again for extreme metal globally, how the passion for music won out over soccer, and hopeful tour plans.

Dead Rhetoric: Killing Karma is the 11th studio album for Disbelief. How did the songwriting and recording sessions go for this set of material – were there any surprises, obstacles, or challenges that took place that shaped this record in a different way beyond the pandemic?

Karsten Jäger: We changed studios. The last two studio albums we recorded at Rambadt Recordings and this time we recorded in a studio near my hometown, I have to drive 35-40 minutes. We began the songwriting process directly in the studio in January of last year. Every month I have been there, working on new songs with the vocals, arrangements, and stuff like this. The real recordings began, I worked on the vocals from January until November for the last words of the album. We have made the whole songwriting process directly in the studio with Kai Stahlenberg, the producer. The mix and the master were also made there.

A new step forward. More into death metal, that sound. That was the reason why we went with a new studio, they are recording most of their bands there are death metal bands. We chose this studio to get deeper into the death metal sound with the new album. It’s a modern sound, but a death metal sound, I think.

Dead Rhetoric: You acquired latest drummer Timo Claas in 2021 – what do you think of his abilities and how does his work ethic and personality help the current lineup of Disbelief?

Jäger: I think with Timo we have the first drummer in Disbelief that is a real death metal drummer. He listens to death metal, and he loves to play death metal. All our previous drummers are not so typical death metal-wise. It makes things easier for us because we are not limited to a certain speed or something. We’ve tried out several songs to keep a cool balance between speed and groove.

Dead Rhetoric: Can you discuss the human soul breaking aspects that come up on the lyrical content for the record? Were you able to channel specific experiences or events through some of the topics this time around that also fit the atmosphere presented musically?

Jäger: Different things. I have made nine (songs); our bass player did two or three (songs) as well. We have changed this up a little bit. I put inside some things that surround us all regarding war, the modern war I want to say with fake news, how this new war goes on compared to what goes on in the past due to new methods, new tools to make war. It’s totally different to the past, I think. Especially the song “Inhuman Whore” made my thoughts because of that. There is a song called “A Leap In the Dark”, it’s a song especially in my mind for kidnapping a young girl and then holding them there for a month, the parents don’t know where their child is – and then she’s murdered, they found the girl. It’s a really, really tough thing – fascinating for me to see how a human being can touch a young child and make bad things happen to this child. I don’t know what’s going on in the human mind to do things like that. Especially at the end, they find the murderer, but the father of the family died before he got the satisfaction of knowing they caught the murderer. At first, I want to dedicate that song to him – we did the video as well and dedicate this to all the families that this happens to, for them to hopefully be able to gain a little more power.

Dead Rhetoric: How did the Killing Joke cover for “Millenium” come about on the new record? What would you consider the most enjoyable tracks to cover in your catalog?

Jäger: This is the third time that we have covered a song for Killing Joke. The first was “Democracy” and “Love Like Blood”, and now we have done “Millenium”. I think we have to cover Killing Joke songs; these are special songs for Disbelief as we have a connection to the band. They are a very unique band, and Disbelief is unique too – it’s a good combination to cover Killing Joke songs. But I think this is the last time we will do this. We’ve covered a lot of bands – Iron Maiden with “Stranger in a Strange Land”, The Scorpions with “Coast to Coast”, Slayer “Spill the Blood”, these were made for tribute CD samplers. We do this for passion and love, and the cool connection to these bands.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been a part of Listenable Records since 2017’s The Symbol of Death album. What do you enjoy most about being on this label and their promotional team – do you believe they have the proper understanding and respect to push Disbelief through the best possibly channels, handling the ever-changing music industry as best as possible?

Jäger: I think they work very professionally, and they work very fast. I’m satisfied with their work. I hope they do a lot of promotion for the new album; they give all kinds of possibilities. It’s the last album on the contract, it was a three-album contract. I hope we can go on with the label in the future, but I won’t make a decision now. I’ll make this decision when we have toured for the album, maybe in 2025 I’ll do this decision. I’ve never seen my label boss; the only contact is by email. I am trusting him, and Steffie and Laurent, I trust them. I hope I will see them this year, perhaps we will meet each other for the first time.

Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to looking at the long career of Disbelief, what do you consider some of the benchmark or highlight moments with the group? Specific albums, videos, tours, festival appearances, or other situations where you knew you were making an impact with your music?

Jäger: There are many, many. The beginning, the first big festivals in 1998 with Wacken Open Air, and especially the Dynamo Open Air in Holland. Then all the tours, the tour with Death Angel, that was cool to hang around with them and share the same night liner with them. It was a cool experience to meet these guys, especially Mark the singer. He is such an optimistic guy, celebrating everything. It would be the first day, this is the first drink of the day, this is a celebration. Always positive vibes. I’ve never met a more optimistic or positive guy than him. All the tours with Bolt Thrower, especially the first tour because of the special lineup with Crowbar in Europe. We learned a lot from Bolt Thrower, especially their guitar player Gavin. He’s a real punk, we learned a lot about the music business from them, how they do this. We have played two shows directly supporting Slayer – one show was on a reunion tour with Anthrax, where Joey Belladonna had rejoined. That was really cool to hang out with them. And many more – but these are special moments.

Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts on the global metal landscape currently? Does it surprise you that there seems to be a healthy resurgence in a lot of more underground / extreme genres these days?

Jäger: The real death metal is even more underground than it ever was. In Germany, I think it’s the same – all over the world, the underground is more and more underground. There is no possibility for the people in Germany for example, if they look on the normal channels on television, the only thing they can hear about heavy metal is one time in a year, one time in the news – this is Wacken again, people are staying in the mud, it’s raining and chaos. Normal people will think there is only one thing in a year – that people met at Wacken, and that’s all. The only chance to see clips is on YouTube, and not on German television. In the past, we had private channels that showed heavy metal on television. We had Mosh, Headbangers Ball, or Viva – now, nothing. That’s not a good evolution, I think.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe the internet has been a plus to push the genre forward – or do you miss the days of physical fanzines, tape trading, letter writing?

Jäger: A little bit I miss the time with tape trading. It was a real cool time to search out music all the time. It was fresh and new. Now you have to search if you want a new band, you have to search and search. There are so many things to keep in mind. Sometimes it happens, you can discover a band that sounds like Carcass or Morbid Angel with a fresh twist.

Dead Rhetoric: What worries you most about the current world that we are living through today? If you had unlimited resources, time, and energy to tackle a specific issue or two that would benefit the most people, what would you tackle?

Jäger: I think the main thing is, with a mobile phone, you thought things would go at lightning speed. I hope that at the age of 65, I could throw my mobile phone away, I want things to go slower. We seem to need a day now of 48 hours, not 24 hours sometimes. Life was a little slower in the past without these phones and social media platforms. You have Spotify, accounts for this and that, besides the band. We are musicians, not social media guys.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you balance out your career goals and musical aspirations while also maintaining relationships with family and friends? Do you have the proper support and understanding from these people when it comes to what you’ve achieved as a musician?

Jäger: I have chosen my own way. At the age of 23-24, it wasn’t my decision, it was the decision based on passion to make music. Before, my priority passion was to play soccer. It changed then because I wanted to be a musician – if you want to do anything 100% you can only do one thing. I had to close my soccer career because I cannot be at training or make two-three practices a week to play soccer. Because at the same time there were things I had to do involving the music. At the end, I quit soccer, it was a sacrifice for me. I’ve chosen this way at this age, up to now it’s my priority. I have to earn money and have a day job; I work at a booking agency for German comedians. It’s because I’m a musician, and I work for the audience. This was tough for me during the Corona situation, I had to stay on the couch for two years.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for anything related to Disbelief over the next twelve months or so?

Jäger: You can expect over the next years more shows. We will have the album release, on the weekends release shows in Germany. We won’t play as many summer festivals this year, hopefully that will resume for us next year to play more. In the autumn, after the summer season, I want to tour for the new album. I’m working with our booker so we can make this happen. For the last two albums, we didn’t get the chance to go on tour and play outside of Germany. It was not so nice, the last album we couldn’t go on tour due to the lockdown. That was a really frustrating situation, we were very enthusiastic for the new album. It’s hard to keep that excitement when you play these songs a few years later. I can’t wait to play the new songs live when we can do this.

Disbelief on Facebook

[fbcomments width="580"]