Interview with drummer Markus Hahn
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: July 9, 2023
Germans Deathrow, formed in 1984 (1984-1986 as Samhain), were in the very first wave of German thrash metal along with many other bands in the eighties. They built a good reputation for themselves with their well-received albums (especially the first two, Riders of Doom/Satan's Gift in 1986 and Raging Steel in 1987) when thrash metal was under the magnifying glass of many record labels. Deathrow even did a successful European tour with Possessed and Voïvod in November 1986, which is surely something us old farts still remember.
Nearly every band faces some low points in their career and these beloved German thrashers from Düsseldorf are no exception. They had quite a few battles with labels and such and the adverse contract with West Virginia was the very last nail that ended the band's career. Deathrow decided to quit for good in 1994.
The Metal Crypt had the extraordinary opportunity to chat with the band's drummer Markus Hahn about the time when they were still active, touring and releasing albums, their ups and downs as Markus remembers them. Read on...
Guten tag, Markus! Wie ist das Leben in Deutschland?
Markus: [*laughs*] Deutschland ist sehr schön! For me, there is no need or reason to move over to some other country. Germany has all that I need and all that I want and from my hometown of Düsseldorf you are close to the Netherlands, Belgium and also France.
PRE-DEATHROW DAYS AS SAMHAIN
We are here to talk about the past of one of the true German thrash metal legends, Deathrow. You are one of the original members of the band and between 1984-1986, you were called Samhain before changing the band name to Deathrow. A few words about Samhain for starters, if you don't mind. Can you recall when you put Samhain together in 1984 and what your main goals with this outfit were?
Markus: The beginning of the pre-Deathrow story dates back to 1982/83. In a small, boring town close to the city Bremen in the north of Germany is where we formed a band called Höllenhunde (the German word for Hellhounds). We were very young lads, 15-17 years old, and started a band to play some sort of hybrid of rock and metal, and at that time our music probably could be compared to Riot's album, Fire Down Under (1981). It was a very hard-sounding style back in those days and we played a couple of gigs in little youth clubs around Bremen. Then, at the beginning of 1984 our bassist/singer died just weeks before his 17th birthday and that meant the end of the band! We all were paralyzed! After a few months, Sven and I decided to leave it all behind, our hometown, our families, friends, and our practice place where we trained. We were determined to form a new band, meet serious musicians and find opportunities to play live and make a record, so we moved over to Düsseldorf, a big city in the west of Germany, to start a new life there. We had in some metal magazines that there was a really good metal scene and you could rent rooms for practicing. We were aware of the debut album (Burning the Witches, 1984) from Warlock (ex-band of Doro Pesch), who came from Düsseldorf.
So, we got finally our band together. It didn't take long before we met Milo (bass) and Thomas Priebe (guitar), who were in search of musicians, too. We got a room to practice in and started playing some songs from Höllenhunde and that was the start of it all. Sven and I never talked with other musicians, and Milo and Thomas were the only choices for the first permanent lineup! Crazy, isn't it!? The first rehearsals together were very uneven because Milo and Thomas were still pretty inexperienced rookies and not as well trained as the two of us, but pretty quickly we all got better and better and became a tight unit. Back then, we wrote songs for our band such as "Slaughtered" and "Spider Attack" among others that eventually appeared on our debut album, Riders of Doom (1986). The main problem, however, was to find a suitable vocalist and after a hard search that turned out to be unsuccessful, we kind of forced Milo to do the vocals because we had no more ideas to resolve that unfortunate situation. [*laughs*] Luck was on our side this time as Milo's vocals turned out so well that he took over the vocal duties. In the middle of 1985, the band lineup was complete.
Back in those days, we were in contact with other thrash bands and had opportunities to play some gigs with them. Ee wrote more songs, demoed a tape at our practice room and named our band Samhain. We all liked horror films and in the first Halloween movie there was a scene where the killer wrote on the wall with blood, Samhain, and when we looked it up, we saw it was a Celtic word for the feast of the Lord of the Dead. That was a perfect name for our band. And from there, our journey began...
During the first half of the eighties, the German underground metal scene was blooming, and many new bands emerged almost at the same time you did. Tormentor (which became Kreator later), Sodom, Destruction, Minotaur, Angel Dust, Living Death, Holy Moses, etc., etc. They were just the tip of the iceberg of what was going on in the German underground metal scene back in those days. How did you view Samhain's position among all the German speed and thrash metal acts in the early-to-mid eighties? Was there any competition going on between bands, who's going to be the loudest and meanest sounding band?
Markus: That's true. Between 1985 and maybe 1987 there was an explosion in speed, thrash and crossover metal. They were very exciting times, believe me. Many metal magazines and fanzines also appeared at the same time. We made many copies of our demo tape and sent them everywhere. Within just a short period of time, I remember that we appeared in many international underground metal magazines, without much effort, which was truly unbelievable. You have to keep in mind that there were three instrumental tracks on the tape we recorded with an absolutely terrible sound! This existing metal scene back then was its own engine with bands playing with immense speed. We ourselves didn't have any special goal to reach a certain position or whatever in the scene back then; we were a young and wild thrash act among many other bands and were just a part of that all. That was so thrilling for us. There was competition between bands and that was really okay for us, too! Every band wanted to be the loudest, fastest, or meanest of them all, but that was a normal attitude among young musicians in those days. In every kind of music, or sports for instance, you have that competition going on all the time, you simply can't avoid it.
Were there many thrash metal bands coming from the Düsseldorf area or did this speed and thrash metal boom happen all around Germany?
Markus: Well, in the west of Germany, in cities like Bochum, Essen, Gelsenkirchen, and Herne and also in Dortmund and Düsseldorf, there is a thing called "ruhrpott." It's an expression for a working-class area where many coal mines existed and the miners lived with their families. Many bands like Kreator, Sodom, Violent Force, Living Death, Rage, Assassin, Warrant, Angel Dust, Darkness and even Deathrow, they all came from this area in question. It was a big scene back then, with many metal clubs and pubs where you could get in contact with anyone basically. Because of that, we met some guys from Violent Force, and they invited us to be their opening act for their concert. What a score, as this meant the very first gig at a club for us. We were really excited about this cool opportunity. We played at a school in Essen, a little sports hall with a small stage. Fortunately, the place was crowded with a bunch of thrash metal maniacs. It was one wild, raging party, I can assure you of that. [*laughs*] The main thing to come from this event was the fact that we met Mille from Kreator. He saw our show, and afterward he visited us backstage and told us that he was very impressed by our sound! Wow, what an overwhelming compliment from him! He suggested we record a real demo tape in the studio within the following couple of weeks because he said he could take it with him to Berlin and play it to the staff at Noise Records.
So, we had a shot to get a record deal if they (the Noise people) liked our demo. It was very hard work for us to make this all possible in such a short time. But we finally managed to record the demo tape, despite some troubles in the studio, and Mille did keep his word and presented it to the Noise people while Kreator were recording their album, Pleasure to Kill. After some time, Noise Records contacted us with some positive news and the rest is history, I guess. Well done, Mille! [*laughs*]
Can you still remember how well your demos were received back in those wild tape-trading days? Did you get fan letters from all over the world?
Markus: There were three demo tapes from Samhain. The first one was the instrumental tape, titled The Lord of the Dead (recorded in 1985), the second one was the one we made for Noise Records to try and get a record deal with them, Eternal Death (1986) and on the third was our first gig on tape, called Samhain Live (1986). We only sent the Eternal Death demo to radio stations, magazines/fanzines and some special people around the world and after a short time, we got letters from everywhere and appeared in numerous metal magazines around the globe. The other two demos were spread over the world, too, but we did nothing to promote them. It was the tape traders who did all the work back then, circulating our demos to each other like crazy.
What was the main reason for changing the Samhain name to Deathrow in 1986? Because of Glen Danzig's Samhain and/or Denmark's Samhain perhaps?
Markus: We had to change the name to something else! Glen Danzig owned the rights to that name and when we wanted to release an album for the world market, we were not allowed to use the Samhain name. It was a bit of a shock for us! By that time, probably in February/March 1986, we had already played shows with Kreator, Sodom, and others, sharing big stages with many of them. We had appeared in many, many metal magazines, all under the Samhain name and now we had to change the name to something else!? We just couldn't believe it! Then Karl Walterbach called us and said, "You will go to the studio in April to record your debut album and it will be released with the name Deathrow." And that was it basically, over and out [*laughs*]. But eventually, we had no other choice left and agreed with the name change, though.
THE YEARS ON NOISE RECORDS
In 1985-86, as Deathrow, you inked a deal with Noise Records. It must have felt like a dream come true as Noise Records was known as a relatively big metal label that represented such bands as Voïvod, Celtic Frost, Kreator, etc. Can you remember your first meeting with the label boss Karl-Ulrich Walterbach, who founded the label in 1981?
Markus: Well, we got in contact with Noise in early 1986, and it didn't take long before Walterbach asked us if we had enough songs for a full album. We told him, "Yes, we do, for sure." Shortly after that, he sent us the record deal, no joke! [*laughs*] It was one of those "standard contracts" with all the traps for bands and advantages for the record label you can imagine. We had no lawyer to look after us at that time and we were simply happy to get that deal, so we decided to sign it. We all felt like kings for getting a deal from a big metal label like Noise Records. [*laughs*]
I think this is probably not the right place to judge Karl Walterbach, but here's a small story. He was an ice-cold hardliner, who walked the way he wanted to go, no compromises whatsoever. We asked if we could make the front and back covers for our follow-up album, Raging Steel (1987) on our own, plus the inner sleeve. We knew a painter and promised Walterbach that the result would be very good. He said, "Okay, you can do it and we will use it for your upcoming album." We were electrified and worked on it with our hearts and souls and the result was unbelievably great looking. Our second album was originally going to be titled Scattered by the Wind and a picture of burning skulls on the front cover where foggy screaming souls rose up to the sky. We were in Berlin recording the second album and we gave that album cover to Walterbach with restlessly pounding hearts. He looked at it for a while then he threw it on his big table and said cynically, "Nah, just scrap it and forget it...!" And that was it!
We were utterly disappointed by his decision. In the end, we had to choose a picture from five terrible suggestions, and we ended up taking the least terrible one and changed the album title to Raging Steel. And that is how it was released!! At least we made some t-shirts on our own with the original design of Scattered by the Wind, without asking for permission from Noise Records first. We took some of those shirts on a big tour with Tankard in March 1988 and in a very short time, they were all sold out and due to high demand, we printed more shirts over and over again. Such a pity for you guys in Noise Records! [*laughs*]
Many things started happening for Deathrow soon after you were signed to the Noise Records roster. You recorded the band's debut album at Studio Wahn in Bochum, Germany. Could you describe what it was like for young guys to get your debut album recorded? I bet you were all thinking, "Is this really happening...", or something along with those lines, right?
Markus: Well, apart from what happened before all of that, we were really proud to enter a real studio for the first time. Keep in mind Milo was just 18 years old and we all had no idea what would happen. The reason we were sent to Studio Wahn in Bochum was that it was close to Düsseldorf, meaning that Noise Records could save the money for hotel expenses and who knows what else! We had to drive to the studio every afternoon after work, about 30 kilometres there and back! Quite unbelievable, isn't it? The producer Ralph Hubert was not the best choice to record a thrash metal album. No joke because we were the first thrash metal band that he had worked with. Working with this guy turned out to be a real catastrophe! He didn't understand us, and we didn't understand him! He was swanky and didn't help us young guys much. To work with him was a real fuckin' horror! I'm quite sure that working with Harris Johns in Berlin's Music Lab Studio for Riders of Doom would have provided much more of the needed punch the album deserved. So, in the end, I could say the album sounded unfinished.
When you listen to Riders of Doom now, do you still feel proud of this achievement?
Markus: I have made my inner peace with it, so to speak! If I am thinking back and remembering how young we all were and all the shit that happened around this album back in those days, I think it's a well-executed record all in all and it puts a smile on my face when I listen to it. It's the purest thrash metal, unleashed with such a wild and fresh power. In fact, we couldn't have made it any better considering our young ages. [*laughs*]
The same album was also released for the US market but with a different title, Satan's Gift, apparently without the band's permission. What's the story behind why the label put it out with a different title and also different cover artwork?
Markus: Riders of Doom received very good reviews from everywhere, so Noise decided to put it out for the American market, too. At that time many death metal acts started popping up in America and bands like Obituary, Death, Autopsy, Cannibal Corpse and many others had very brutal-looking album covers with a lot of gory and grotesque images. Noise decided to change the original album cover for a more brutal looking one, just to sell more albums in the American market, and if that wasn't all they also changed the title to Satan's Gift. At the same time, they released it in Europe again and there was one record but with two totally different album covers!! We were like, "What the fuck...?!" Noise never told us what they had done. We would never have given our approval for that shit!! Many fans and magazines were totally confused about this whole episode and at the end it became our task to explain Noise's mistake. That was really bad and, unfortunately, it did some damage to the Deathrow name.
Which album cover do you prefer these days, the original cover for Riders... or the one for the American market?
Markus: The original Riders of Doom cover, for sure! Noise Records had hired a painter named Phil Lawvere, who designed most of the album covers for the Noise bands. We had let him know what we wanted and he actually did it very well. This is one of the less negative things that we have to say about Noise Records. [*laughs*]
TOURING WITH POSSESSED AND VOÏVOD
Soon after the band's album was released in Europe, you hit the road with Voïvod and Possessed. How was that tour for Deathrow? I assume crazy and wild as could be expected from three bands where musicians are in their twenties, eh...?
Markus: Yes, it all was unbelievable for us! When Walterbach told us that he would put us on a tour with Possessed and Voïvod, we all jumped around in joy! The tour took about two weeks and we drove right through Germany, Belgium, and The Netherlands as well. The guys from both bands were very friendly and supported us as much as they could. The Possessed guys were really crazy freaks, and we had a lot of fun with them. The Voïvod lads were very calm and secluded but really lovely guys. All in all, touring with them was hard work because we played nearly every evening and right after we finished, we drove through the night to the next town in two small vans. It took all our power, believe me. But, of course, it was a great experience for all of us and we were very thankful. After that tour, all the other German thrash metal bands envied us immensely. [*laughs*]
I bet touring with Possessed and Voïvod back in the day is undoubtedly something you'll never forget. Did you do any other remarkable tours in 1986, or just this one?
Markus: The tour was in October/November 1986. Before and after we played many single shows here and there, but that was the only tour for us during that year.
Two years later, in 1988, Deathrow invaded England with your fellow country mates Kreator, Destruction, Sodom, Exumer and Tankard where you all shared the stage at Electric Ballroom in London. How was that "German Invasion!" for Deathrow? It was a completely sold-out event if I am not mistaken...?
Markus: We have played two times in London. The first gig happened at Electric Ballroom with Tankard. It was a crazy festival with many bands from England as well. I can remember one of them whose name was Bomb Disneyland. They honestly sounded crappy [*laughs*]. It was kind of a mixture of dark wave and some rockabilly, but they were very funny. I give them that at least. The second gig was in 1989 when we got an invitation from Tankard to join the final shows of their UK tour. I can't remember the place where we played but it was some sort of a showroom, which was located in an old, big castle on the top of a small hill. The Tankard guys slept in their nightliner and we had a room in a small hotel. I remember it very well because in that same small hotel we met the guys from Leatherwolf. Two of them sat in a little bar and had some drinks. Sven and I are big fans of Leatherwolf. Their self-titled debut album is a true gem. We were so excited that we couldn't speak. Shame on us! [*laughs*] Anyway, the crowd at that gig was very wild. They really brought the house down. After the show, we entered the bar in the castle and had a few drinks with the guys from Tankard. In the end we were so drunk we couldn't find our way back to our hotel and hence we ended up sleeping in Tankard's nightliner. [*laughs*]
In 1987, you entered Music Lab studio in Berlin to record your follow-up album, Raging Steel, which was a more refined and even technical album due to your improved playing skills. What was it like to go back to the studio, knowing you should try to outdo yourselves with this album, and take that next important leap in order to establish the band as one of the most promising of the day? Was there any pressure on your shoulders while the recording process for the Raging Steel album was going on?
Markus: Well, it was musically a step forward for us as we all progressed with our instruments and as a band. Playing together for so many shows and being on the road nearly every weekend left their marks on us. We knew each other very well by then and my drumming and Milo's vocals had improved a lot compared to the times of our debut album. We had the possibility of using more double bass and even more melodic and cleaner singing lines. We felt no pressure at all, probably just the opposite because we wanted to prove to all the metal maniacs that we were capable of doing a better follow-up album. With the producer Harris Johns at the helm and the Music Lab Studio in Berlin, we were happy to record our follow-up album there, making the kind of record that we wanted to do. Harris Johns was the total opposite compared to Ralph Hubert and he helped us in every possible way. Sven and Thomas on guitars complemented each other and their songs were amazing. Based on these facts, it was a real pleasure to record that album and we were truly happy with the final outcome.
How was Noise Records treating you at this point in 1987, as they surely knew Deathrow were going somewhere with all the success you had? Had the label's attitude become better and more professional regarding Deathrow's business relationship with the boss of the label, Karl-Ulrich?
Markus: The relationship with Walterbach was complicated from the very beginning. I think we also were a bit cheeky to him. [*laughs*] I remember one story from when we stayed the first week at Music Lab to record Raging Steel. We had spent all of our money and had none to buy food, so I went to the office of Noise Records to beg for some more. Noise Records had their office in Berlin and I used the underground railway to get there. The woman at the office lobby told me, "I could get the money for you right from the boss himself as he is in his office." I knocked on his office door and went straight in. Walterbach sat behind his big desk, smoked a cigar, wrote something on a paper and said without even looking at me, "What the hell are you doing here?!" I replied, "We need money for food for the next week." He opened a drawer, took out a big roll of banknotes and threw it to me, saying, "In 3-4 days I'll come to the studio and I want to hear some serious results, do you hear me? Now get the fuck out of here." [*laughs*]
After the release of Raging Steel, you guys toured in Italy in 1987 with Coroner, but I am curious to know if you did any other tours that same year?
Markus: Actually, we didn't really tour in Italy at all but played a bunch of single gigs instead, some festival shows and stuff. Since the beginning we were friends with the Kreator guys and if they had no time to play at a festival, they always called us and asked us to take their place on the festival bill.
The shows in Italy with Coroner were in June 1988 and we just had found a new guitarist named Uwe Osterlehner. He only had two weeks to learn the songs for the live set, but it was enough for him. He learned the songs very quickly. It was just a small tour, and the manager was a young guy. The whole touring thing was too much for him to handle, so it was a really chaotic at times and nothing was organized well. Twice we all came late to the shows and most of the people had already left the venue and gone home. I really remember the gig in Torino very well. The gig was booked in a big theater, which had a big stage where some classical orchestras had played before. In the front of the stage was a huge curtain that separated the performers from the audience. We opened up the concert and when the curtain moved aside, we saw the fans who were all screaming their lungs out for us. The show was completely sold out and the theater was overcrowded, too. It was an amazing experience, which I will remember for the rest of my life for sure.
Winds of change started blowing in Deathrow in 1988 as the band's second guitarist Thomas Priebe left the band, and was replaced by Uwe Osterlehner, who was a tad more technical and advanced as a guitarist. I guess he was also the main reason Deathrow's sound became more progressive and more technical on the band's third album, Deception Ignored, released in June 1989, right?
Markus: Thomas was not the kind of a guy who could stay on the road all the time. After we signed the deal with Noise, we became occupied for months. Touring, festivals, single gigs, interviews, photo shoots, rehearsals and so on. It was all too much for Thomas and after our tour with Tankard in March/April 1988, he lost his desire to be a part of all that. We noticed it as well and after a few weeks we had a talk where he told us that he just couldn't go on this way anymore and left the band. In fact, we weren't that satisfied with his work anymore either and kind of knew what was about to happen. We were really shocked in the end that Thomas was not a member of the band anymore. It took a little time to deal with it and after a while we went on a search for a new guitarist. A few weeks later, in June 1988, we found Uwe Osterlehner. We really had no time to check out if he'd be a perfect fit or not because we had a tour coming up in Italy in two weeks and after it we even had a small tour with Flaming Anger in Germany and The Netherlands. And if that wasn't all, we had to record our third album in December 1988 and had a few ideas for songs only and not much more.
Did you also feel this step was necessary to avoid repeating yourselves?
Markus: Well, by the time Thomas left the band, if I remember correctly, we had three complete songs from Thomas and some pieces for such songs as "Machinery,""N.L.Y.H." and maybe "The Deathwish" from Sven. Believe me, the new songs, even from Thomas, were just amazing! Very fast, powerful and I'd even say with some influences from Fates Warning and Iron Maiden. If the songs from Sven had been finished, they would have formed a pretty logical follow-up album for Raging Steel, in the same thrash vein. The big problem was when Thomas left the band, he took his songs with him and we had no new stuff written but only a few ideas from Sven and we only had five months to go to the studio! That's kind of the dilemma there. There was no other choice but to use the songs that Uwe had written for the band. No doubt, Uwe had a really different way of writing songs than Sven or Thomas. Due to Uwe's different approach, Deathrow changed its sound to a more technical thrash. There was no time for discussions or planning about how we should sound on our third album, we simply had to rehearse the songs that were available and ready and that was basically it. And as it turned out, Deathrow's third album was a more technically advanced thrash metal album than our two previous albums. Seriously, songs like "Triocton" and "Narcotic" should never have been on a Deathrow album. We just needed more time to focus on the album and work on it. Even for me as the drummer of the band, it was a very hard task to play that type of thrash metal, which was a style I never felt at home with. Pure thrash metal songs like "Slaughtered," "Spider Attack" or even "Pledge to Die" were my kind of thrash songs that I still liked to play and only the reasons I decided to approve our new, more technical and progressive thrash metal style was the fact I still loved playing in the band and respected my fellow members. All in all, in the end I'm very proud of my drum parts on that album, which also became the best-selling album in the history of Deathrow. Pretty crazy, isn't it? [*laughs*]
How was the tour with Tankard in 1989, after the Deception... album was released? Both bands seemed to be relatively popular in 1989, so obviously you didn't have problems drawing audiences to your shows, did you?
Markus: Well, it was the second time we had been on tour with Tankard. The first tour was in March/April 1988 to support the release of our second album, Raging Steel. Almost one year later, Noise put us on the road with them again for nearly three weeks. We shared a big nightliner together and the tour was very successful for both bands. Since our very first gig with Tankard in September 1986, we were close friends with those wonderful guys. Their singer Gerre and the bassist Frank especially, they were like two big, unruly kids who played pranks on everyone all around-the-clock. Remember, they are the two original members left in Tankard, so perhaps those constant funny pranks have bonded them together forever, who actually knows. Every time we played with Tankard, it was more like a great party with never-ending nonsense than serious work and we all loved it. [*laughs*]
LABEL CHANGES AND FOURTH ALBUM: LIFE BEYOND
Then there's a label change from Noise Records to West Virginia Records who put out the band's fourth, and last, album, Life Beyond, in 1992. Had Noise Records dropped Deathrow from their roster or did you try to find a new label on purpose due to a lack of support from Noise's side?
Markus: I guess I don't need to mention it anymore, but we were not really satisfied with how we were treated by Noise Records. We went through many serious conversations with them about the matters that bothered us. At the end of 1989, Walterbach told us, "We want to send you on tour with Sabbat through the UK, but you have to pay for the nightliner from your own pockets this time around. After this tour, you can go and record your fourth album." Our contract included three albums and Noise held the option for one more. We were sure that we could pay for the nightliner, but then again what for? Why did Noise demand that from us? It made no sense at all! Finally, we told Noise that we didn't want to agree on their conditions, and a few days later they showed us the door. That was such a big blow to us!! Noise Records and Walterbach were history from then on and it was really okay for us.
In the beginning of 1990, we decided to take a break. We all felt that we needed time to take a couple of deep breaths and took a break from everything that had happened around us. By then, all the members concentrated on their own projects, to get some time away from Deathrow. For example, Milo organized some independent rock/metal parties at one big event hall in Düsseldorf, Sven had a project named Shades of Gray, which stylistically played some sort of metal/dark wave rock, Uwe worked in a studio with the guys from The Krupps, a project that played technical industrial metal and I had formed a band carrying the name Research (two members later went to Lost Century) and played the kind of thrash/crossover metal that I wanted to do myself.
It took nearly a year before we felt prepared to take the next steps with Deathrow. In early 1991, we found an independent management agency who booked us on tours and started searching for a new record company for us. We also recorded a single in the small studio in Düsseldorf owned by Die Krupps, with three new songs on it ("Towers in Darkness," "Homosapiens Superior" and "The Remembrance"). Then we went on tour in July through Germany with Psychotic Waltz and Sieges Even and after that we played in San Sebastian, Spain at a big open-air festival with Sodom, Coroner, Risk, Accu§er and Poltergeist, which was located at a soccer stadium. It was an amazing event for all of us! After the festival, we also played a few single gigs before starting to write new songs for our fourth album. By the end of 1991, our management had gotten three potential offers from record companies, and we decided to pick up the offer from West Virginia Records.
Were you personally 100% satisfied with this more progressive thrash direction on the band's swan song album, Life Beyond? I mean, I could understand if some die-hard Deathrow fans who loved the band's first two albums, somehow wanted to ignore it for their own reasons...
Markus: All of us thought that a lot of people would have problems with our "new style," so to speak, but much to our surprise most of our fans dug it, which made us happy. Of course, we also got some critical feedback as far as our third album, Deception Ignored, was concerned, but we were prepared for that and understood those negative comments as well. In many metal magazines around the world that featured us, we got some very good and positive reviews that helped us to carry on and do things our way. On our fourth (and last) album, Life Beyond, in a way we kind of returned to the approach that we probably had on our second album, Raging Steel. The songs are straight and heavy, spiced with only a low level of technical thrash. Uwe realized that his complicated way of writing thrash songs was not "healthy" for the listeners and even our fans were having some hard times when we played some of those more technically demanding songs live. Honestly, in my eyes Life Beyond is a well-executed and very satisfying album. I myself still like it very much and all of us who recorded the album think the same way.
THE END OF DEATHROW
What was the last nail in the coffin that killed the band for good back in 1994?
Markus: It came to light that the deal with West Virginia Records was full of the same traps as our previous deal with Noise Records, believe it or not! In the contract, we had clearly pointed out that any decision that West Virginia made, they had to discuss it with us first so that we could all be on the same page. We told them that we wanted to decide on the album cover and, fortunately, we did. When it was finished, we handed it over to West Virginia. What happened after that, without even bothering to ask us first, they released the album with their own choice for the cover artwork and not with the one that we had suggested to them! Their album cover on Life Beyond was just horrible, showing a silly, sort of big monster who breaks down a wall. What rubbish! They treated us in the same shitty way that Noise did. Just un-fuckin'-believable! But apparently, much to their sad surprise, we didn't hesitate for a second when we saw this atrocious album cover and took the label to court. We had had enough, and it was a mistake from them to start messing around with us. The final outcome of this episode was that they had to change the album cover back to the one that we first suggested. By then, they had already pressed around 5000 CDs and put them out for sale with the "wrong" cover. So, there was one album with two different album covers again!! What a deja vu nightmare! We were just shaking our heads in disbelief that the same shit happened to us one more time! It was really, really disappointing and we felt betrayed—big time! We quit the deal with West Virginia and played the rest of our booked single shows. At that time, we had also come to the point that we collectively wanted to put an end to this band and stay friends despite all this shit that had happened around us. Deathrow ceased to exist.
Have you had any talk about giving Deathrow another try, maybe bringing the band back for a few special shows, for example?
Markus: I really can remember one time, after years of silence, that we actually talked about it. Uwe, Sven and I went to another metal event that was arranged by Milo and there we were, all four of us, standing together and one of us asked, "What would you think of a reunion of Deathrow?" We were staring at each other somewhat astonishingly for two or three seconds only and all of us basically said, "No way... hell NOOOO!!!" And that was it! No further discussions were needed [*laughs*] In my eyes, you can't find the same enthusiasm, the same euphoria, the same deep and hotly burning passion that you once had once you had in your prime. Also, I wouldn't want to get disappointed and frustrated again. We got enough bullshit dumped on us due to all this unfortunate luck with our previous labels, so let Deathrow rest in peace. I have made my "inner peace" with Deathrow by now. We experienced a lot through Deathrow and came out from those shitty situations as friends, and we want to keep it that way and still stay friends, so there's really no need to test those waters of friendship once again.
I am sure many old and new Deathrow fans are curious to know if you have some unreleased Deathrow songs somewhere in one of your own dusty archives that might be worth releasing someday?
Markus: Except those three songs that Thomas composed and took away with him, there were two other tracks that we never recorded on an album. The first one is called "Screams of Pain." It was one of the very first songs we wrote for Samhain in 1985 and you can find it on the re-release vinyl of Riders of Doom, released by BMG Company in 2018. It's one of the bonus tracks on that album, taken from an old instrumental rehearsal recording that was found in our personal archives. The second one is called "Yigaels Wall," a song that we wrote during the same recording sessions for the Riders of Doom album, but, unfortunately, it did not find its way on the album. We played it live many times in the early years and you can also find it on the re-release vinyl of Raging Steel that BMG Company added to the re-release in 2018 as a live bonus track.
What are the ex-Deathrow members up to nowadays? Do any of them still play music and have you been keeping in touch with them?
Markus: Sven and I are still close friends, and we see each other every now and then. I have to remind all of you that both of us have gone down a long and a bit rocky road together. We met each other as teenagers and wanted to make our dreams come true—and so we did! From time to time, we just sit on his balcony, listen to some old cassettes and drink beer. It's always a very chilling and fun way to spend time that way with him [*laughs*] We tend to make trips with our bikes, driving together to all the way The Netherlands when we are on holiday.
Uwe moved back to Augsburg, in the south of Germany where he is from, and he got married and has a small studio, where he gives guitar lessons for beginners. Sometimes we send messages to each other. It was actually just three weeks ago when Sven and I met Milo at a thrash metal concert in Düsseldorf. The bands who played that night were Warrant, Assassin, and Darkness and it was amazing to meet some old friends. We had a great evening. People were taking a lot of photos of both Sven and me, and we also wrote a bunch of autographs during that evening. I also managed to see one young woman and one young man wearing Deathrow shirts, which was very cool.
I, for one, would sincerely like to thank you, Markus, for your time for giving me a chance to make this somewhat extraordinary interview with you and in the very same breath, I'd like to wish you all the best with your present and future endeavors. May your road be blessed. Any fitting closing comments perhaps?
Markus: Sven and I feel flattered and are proud of all the overwhelming feedback that we received from all over the world when we still existed. I can't remember the number of interviews that we made during the very last years of our existence and, of course, it's a true honor for me to answer your questions, too. I mean, it only proves the fact over and over again that Deathrow is not completely forgotten, for which we are very grateful!
As BMG Company put out the re-release from three of our Noise period albums in 2018, they told us that it didn't take a long time before they were all sold out. What more could I ask for?!
As for those fitting closing comments, I am throwing you the following: Kiitän sydämellisestä vastaanotostasi! Kippis Suomelle! Thank you very much! Now how's that? ;o)
|Other information about Deathrow on this site
|Review: Raging Steel
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