Neaera – The Tempest Has ReturnedThursday, 20th February 2020
While they never seemed to have the reach of fellow countrymen Heaven Shall Burn or Caliban, Neaera have been a consistent force in the German modern metal scene since the early part of the century. Combining crushing death metal riffs and catchy melodies with some equally bruising breakdowns, they released six albums before calling it a day back in 2015. But that disbanding was short lived, and they reformed in 2018 – bringing us up to speed with the band’s upcoming seventh album, a self-titled effort soon to be available on Metal Blade Records (pre-order HERE). We caught up with guitarist Stefan Keller, to get the details on their short-lived split and resurrection, maintaining the same line-up for such a long period, and the band’s consistent sound.
Dead Rhetoric: What caused the band to disband in 2015, and what lead to reformation three years later?
Stefan Keller: There were different reasons – one reason was that we all moved to different cities in Germany, which made it more complicated. The other reason was that some of started actually working in real jobs and started taking that a bit more seriously. Before then, it was more of a compromise of working combined with the band. At that stage, we had all reached our mid-30s and some band members had a feeling that they should take their professional career more seriously. We were also not so creative anymore, in terms of the lyrics that I mainly write. I had the feeling that I had written about everything all ready. There were 6 records with around 12 songs on each, so I felt like I had hit everything that was important. At that time, I also lost some confidence to write more substantial lyrics.
In terms of the music, it was really slow and we were rehearsing on only 4 songs for over a year or so. We also had the feeling on several levels that this was not how we wanted to do the band. We had a different picture of how we wanted to do the band, and felt we were doing it at like 50% or something. It didn’t feel right anymore. We had a sit down and decided it would be a good idea to quit. It was all an organic and harmonious decision. We played a farewell tour with Caliban, which was great. There were no hard feelings involved. It was a great final tour and we were all happy with that.
I think that we all kept quiet for a while. I found a new band called Extinction Mass, which some new friends which I founded in Essen, the city that I live in. Then we had an offer to play to shows at the Impericon Festival and we decided to do this as a one-time only thing. But apparently, we all got along very well and the crowd reactions were magnificent. The reactions that we were playing two shows again was overwhelming to us. So I think that reignited the fire, so to say…as well as the creativity. We slowly worked ourselves into the idea of doing a new record, playing a few shows, and returning as a band.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel that Neaera has to offer fans of the band?
Keller: I think it has a lot to offer. Neaera was never a band that developed extremely – we don’t consider ourselves artists who do something extremely different. In terms of the musicianship, we are not that talented or gifted to do something completely different to be honest. We are more quiet and simple musicians that can only do ‘this’ thing really well. We aren’t technical musicians, but work more from the soul. We take songwriting as an enlargement of our souls. Our records are quite similar to each other, though there are some differences. I think this album takes a lot of our trademarks as a band, but it’s also a little bit more back to the roots. There are some very typical metalcore riffs that could have been written in 2002 or so. It’s a little reminiscent of our first record, but it also offers brutality and aggression – I think it’s a very direct, honest, and uncensored record.
It’s not a record that we thought-out about what we were going to do, but it’s a very spontaneous and intuitive record. There’s still some variety on it – it’s not monotonous or anything. It feels very complete in itself. I think the songwriting has matured as well. For me, this is what stands out, or what makes it a special record. It was mainly written by our other guitarist Tobias [Buck], so there was a different approach this time. Usually we put the songs together living in the same city, but now we are living in different areas so the approach was different this time. That had some advantages, as it sounds very complete in and of itself. It sounds very pure, and we recorded the songs with a drum computer first, which helped with the arrangements. Then when all 10 songs were done, and I started writing lyrics. I was thinking about what texts fit to each song. Which ones carried some darkness and aggression, or which ones sounded pissed off or thoughtful. It helped me to distribute the various texts among the songs. I think that in th end, that also led to the fact that it all fits together very well.
Dead Rhetoric: To me, there’s always been a distinctive sound that Neaera has had since The Rising Tide of Oblivion. I can hear a song and identify it as Neaera. What do you feel that vibe is that you aim for?
Keller: There are different ways to describe it – I think you could call it as a modern metal band. To me, that’s a description that calls it what it is. But you could also call it a death metal band with some black metal and core elements. It’s strongly influenced by Swedish bands like At the Gates or Amon Amarth, but at the same time, we are big Bolt Thrower and Hatebreed fans. We also are Dark Tranquillity and Rammstein fans. The band somehow displays all of that music.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you think that it’s been the same people involved for each album has led to a certain comfort within the band when you write material or playing live?
Keller: I think every band that can say that they are still in the same line-up for such a long time…we aren’t Rush or anything, but it definitely brings some effort with it. There’s some compromise and conflict – it takes you a while to adjust to each other and know each person’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s something very special. I have to admit that it makes me proud that we have the same people. I think there were times in the band where we could have made other decisions, so we have definitely had our lows along our career, but it’s something special that we are still keeping up with each other. There’s an idea of friendship that goes along with it, because we all come from the same city, and we’ve gone on holidays together – there’s definitely friendship involved in addition to the music.
I think we have a high ideal of friendship and faithfulness that kept us together. But I can also say that everyone has certain talents that are necessary and we have different talents, so it’s not so easy to replace someone. When you replace someone in a band, it’s not that easy to replace just the person but also the tasks and responsibilities that they perform. For example, our bass player took our promo pictures and was the director of the “Torchbearer” video. Our singer is mainly responsible for promotion and correspondence with the record company and booking agency. I’m mainly concerned with creativity and with thinking, so that’s probably the best job [laughs]! Everyone has his own responsibilities that fits to their talents, and I think that’s why it’s a good combination of people in the band.
Dead Rhetoric: You have also always had some killer breakdowns and hardcore influences that come in without feeling gimmicky. Any secrets to it?
Keller: I think this whole metalcore thing – we were influenced a little bit by bands like Unearth and The Black Dahlia Murder, in terms of trying this type of music. We all like death metal and that fast and brutal music, but why not combine it with some other strengths from another genre. Obviously we weren’t the first to do it, but when the second wave of metalcore started, we felt it sounded interesting and fresh. We started to like it, because we were also fans of hardcore – me not so much, but I later became one. Others have their roots in hardcore, with bands like Converge. I think we simply put together our influences in what we liked.
I think that then, when metalcore became more of an ‘insult,’ I don’t know if it had something to do with it, but we tried to evolve more into the metal sphere with Let the Tempest Come a little, but definitely with Armamentarium and Omnicide. We felt quite comfortable with it. But now, we are happy to play metalcore riffs again without being ashamed of it – it was how we started as a band, so why not do it again? There’s no need for self-censorship or anything.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you recall about the early days of the band – it feels like there were a number of more ‘modern’ German bands making a mark around that time, such as Heaven Shall Burn, Caliban, and Fear My Thoughts.
Keller: These were bands that we were partly fans of before we started Neaera. We were big Heaven Shall Burn fans, and we were impressed with Caliban’s ferocious live shows and energy. We became pretty close friends with Fear My Thoughts later – there were a lot of parallels in terms of humor, for example. They also loved to run around naked in the tour bus at night. There was a lot that we had in common. I’m not sure whether they really influenced us musically, but we always had a really close look at them. We got to know them, and it probably had a subtle impact on us somehow in what they were doing.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel that Neaera’s lasting impact to metal would be?
Keller: To say that we would have a lasting impact on the metal scene sounds quite big actually. I don’t think that I would even say that personally. But I think what we mean to people is that I think we play a metal sound that somehow reacts with people, and their vision of a modern metal band without sounding too traditional or conservative. I think there’s a certain courage and maybe freshness to the sound itself. We are simply doing it despite not having long hair or being very tattooed. We are just playing what we love, even though we all have decent jobs, families and kids.
We are the same type of people. I’d like to think that we are down to Earth people, so we always love chatting with fans. Our singer jumps off the stage after the show while he’s sweating and goes to the merch table to talk. That’s something people really like, because we don’t consider ourselves to be stars. I think that’s something on a personal level, that fans know about us and appreciate. In terms of music, I think apart from the aggressiveness and the courage to combine genres, I think there’s also a lyrical depth and honesty/sincerity in it. We write about what we personally think about and I think that’s something that helps to create an authentic picture.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s next once the album is released in February?
Keller: It’s quite an interesting year actually compared to previous years. The record will be out on the 28th and we are going to play a record release show at the same venue that we played our first record release show. Then we are playing 5 Impericon shows with As I Lay Dying and Whitechapel. As I Lay Dying are good friends, and Whitechapel not yet but I’m hoping as I really like them a lot but we haven’t met before. I think we are playing Resurrection Fest in show, then we are playing Wacken and Summer Breeze too. I think it’s a great plan – it’s not too much. We can combine it with family and jobs, and we are really looking forward to it!