Interview with vocalist Sabina Classen
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: September 20, 2023
Live pictures by Luxi Lahtinen
Special thanks to Jan "Örkki" Yrlund for his kind help for setting up this interview.
Holy Moses, formed in 1980, belongs to the first wave of German thrash metal. They were there along with Kreator, Sodom, Deathrow, Tankard, Destruction, Living Death, Mekong Delta, Exumer, Assassin, etc., a list that could go on endlessly. The band's 1986 debut album, Queen of Siam, came out on Germany's Aaarrg Records, which was one of the most promising metal labels in Europe at that time along with Noise Records and Music for Nations. During the band's first period of existence, which lasted until 1994, they released seven full-length studio albums and played at Dynamo Open Air Festival in 1989, sharing the stage with Savatage, Sacred Reich, Forbidden and the like. The band stopped activities for six years, and during the period of 1993 to 2000, vocalist Sabina Classen concentrated on her other band, Temple of the Absurd, releasing two studio albums (Absurd in 1995 and Mother, Creator, God in 1999).
As things tend to go in cycles, 2000 felt like the right time for Holy Moses to return to the limelight. The band's eighth studio album, Disorder of the Order, came out on Century Media Records in 2002. Since then, they have kept going, releasing five more studio albums, doing a European tour with Obituary and Avatar in 2008, and playing at some of the most appreciated metal festivals around the European continent.
All good things come to an end at some point, so a tough decision was made in the Holy Moses camp that the band's "The Final Reign" tour in 2023 would be their last (the last gig will take place in Hamburg, Germany, on December 27, 2023, so be there if you can).
The Metal Crypt met the lovely Sabina Classen at a hotel in Tampere, Finland, on August 19, prior to their headlining slot at the Speed Metal Party Festival, and discussed everything between life and death. So, without further ado, let's invite Sabina Classen in and let her tell us about the band's past and current comings and goings.
Hallo Sabina! How are you doing? Feeling good to be back in Finland after 10 years?
Sabina: I'm doing really fine because it's great to be back in Finland. The only bad thing is this morning I heard from my friend that one of my horses died last night. He died shortly before we went on stage. She didn't phone me so that I could do the show, but she told me this morning when I was sitting on the train. He was my old white man. He was 27. He was fine when I left my ranch. He had a colic in the night. Because we have cameras, the other horses gave a sign that something was happening. She saw that on the camera. She was driving to the ranch. Then he died at 10:00 last night.
Oh no, I'm so sorry to hear about all this.
Sabina: That was really hard. I am professional with what I'm doing on stage. I was feeling it when I did the soundcheck. When we go on stage tonight, I will have to change my thinking and feelings into another world and into another mood for the fans, but my heart is bleeding. [*chuckles*]
I easily relate to how you are feeling right now. It's always hard to lose someone so close. Let's change the topic to lighter subjects because I want to get you in a better mood for the show tonight. How was your show in Oulu, Finland, yesterday? Did you get a good crowd response?
Sabina: It was great. It was a small club, but I liked it a lot because the fans were really in a good mood. We played all the huge festivals this summer, so this was the first club show in a while. It was small venue, but it is another feeling because you have the fans right at the stage. That was really wonderful.
You played at Jalometalli Festival in Oulu, Finland, in 2013. What kind of memories do you have from that trip? Slayer, D.R.I. and Voïvod were at the same festival. Did you manage to talk or say hello to any of those bands?
Sabina: It was such a wonderful event, and we met the guys from Voïvod. We had a little funny chat at Hellfest with the guys from Voïvod because I think maybe we were all drinking a little too much after the show because we can't remember much after the show. [*laughs*] It must be a really great thing because we were all in a really good mood there.
Now you are here at Speed Metal Party in Tampere, and you are the headlining act. What makes this event a bit bittersweet is, of course, you being on your last tour, so, in other words, this gig will be your last gig in Finland. Do you feel kind of sad about this fact?
Sabina: This is, of course, really hard for us, especially on this tour because I know in every country where we are going to play, it will be our last show, especially Finland. I love Scandinavia. When I was on the train today, I was looking out the window just watching houses in the woods. I love the nature here. I will definitely come back for holidays to Finland because I love the country so much. It's a special evening tonight to know this is really the very last show for Holy Moses in Finland.
Apparently you wanted to build a special set list for this tour, which would cover the band's whole history. How hard was it to put the songs together for this final Holy Moses tour? I bet it was a hard decision to pick the set list, right?
Sabina: You are totally right. It was a really, really hard decision. Yesterday people asked me, "Why you don't play ‘Six Fat Women' off the Finished with the Dogs album?" It seems like you simply said can't make it right [*chuckles*] because everybody has special songs, which they prefer over other songs. We are trying to do our best. We are in contact with the fans, so there's a strong bond between us. We are really together with the fans. We ask them what songs they want to hear, so based on their opinions we have a better chance of putting a more pleasing set list together. On this tour, we are playing two songs from the new album Invisible Queen, and the album before (Redefined Mayhem, released in 2014), and then a good mix from all the other albums.
Did each of you in the band list your personal faves, and then vote on them?
Sabina: Yes, we tried at least. We know which songs our fans really love to hear during our live shows. We decided to do our best to please the fans. [*chuckles*]
Cool. Do you have extra songs that you can rotate, depending on where you play?
Sabina: Yes, we sometimes switch them. It depends because at the festivals, we normally play like 45 minutes or so. Now, for example, when we are doing our headlining show here in Tampere, we have some extra songs in the set list that we can't do at the festival shows. When you play as a headlining act, just like we'll do here at Speed Metal Party this evening, we do have time to play more songs live for our crowd.
WHAT HAPPENED TO HOLY MOSES IN 1994?
The first period of Holy Moses ended in 1994. What killed the band back then? Of course, there was grunge which became popular, then both the death and black metal genres were raising their ugly heads at the same time, but I believe there were a good number of things that eventually put an end to the band, right?
Sabina: Well, we didn't end the band. We only decided to put it on the back burner a bit. I had my other band Temple of the Absurd going at that time. We were writing songs for Holy Moses, but we were not playing live because Andy (Classen) quit because he wanted to do his studio thing, so I had to think about how I could continue with Holy Moses.
As I said earlier, we didn't end it, but we took a little break instead. You remember the ‘90s was really hard for thrash metal bands...
It was because this grunge thing came along and took over the world, killing the metal scene for a while...
Sabina: Yes. We all had to bring ourselves back to the metal scene again. This break was a good thing for us because we knew we didn't want to change our musical style to something trendier because people were listening to some other type of stuff back in those days. I strongly felt my roots were in thrash metal, so we still just kept on writing stuff for Holy Moses without performing live between ‘95-'99, but I did with my other band Temple of the Absurd. I felt like the fans wanted to hear my voice, so it was great doing Temple of the Absurd. With T.o.t.A., I knew this is really what I wanted to do and I could always come back with Holy Moses later when the time was right. In ‘99, we seriously started to focus on new Holy Moses material for the band's next album.
...which was titled Disorder of the Order. By the time the album was released in 2002, thrash metal had already made its resurgence, so I assume you'd agree the timing was pretty much perfect to get the band's eighth studio album out for the fans, right?
Sabina: Absolutely. I talked to the guys from Destruction and also Kreator. They all had their problems back then, kind of struggling with the same thing as every other band during those grunge years. They changed their musical style a little bit over the course of time until returning back to their old-school thrash metal style again some years later. I felt like it was good for Holy Moses to take this break, to get back to that sound that made Holy Moses, Holy Moses. [*chuckles*]
I guess you wanted the fans to recognize right off the bat it's Holy Moses all the way through, without any musical compromises whatsoever...
Sabina: Yes, you are totally right. We are all about the things we do. During our break we understood it was important for us to do what is in our hearts and souls, staying loyal to our musical roots and style. This is Holy Moses, and we will never change our style and that's it. However, when we were writing the songs for the Disorder of the Order album, we did not think we should write songs in a certain way because we already knew by then that we could return to that familiar Holy Moses sound that has made us sound like us. We were writing and saying to ourselves, "This is us and let's see what comes out."
Since returning from your break, you have done six more studio albums, including the 30th Anniversary: In the Power of Now album, which contained re-recorded old songs, plus two new songs. What's your personal favorite out of these albums?
Sabina: My personal pick would be the Invisible Queen record. I mean I think this album is really perfect because it was so much about us, and we did not alter our sound at all. We were not thinking if it would be our last album or not. We were just writing the kind of stuff that would serve the band's 43 years of existence. We really took our time and wrote the kind of album that we wanted to hear ourselves. My band mates wrote a wonderful album. It is really my favorite one from the new Holy Moses period. It's a fully characteristic album of what Holy Moses is all about.
SWANSONG – INVISIBLE QUEEN
Your thirteenth studio album, Invisible Queen, as you mentioned earlier, is, unfortunately, the band's swansong. It was released on Markus Wosgien's label Fireflash Records, which is considered a sublabel of Atomic Fire Records. How did you end up signing a deal with his label? What's your connection with Markus?
Sabina: Markus is just an unbelievable guy. I've known Markus for maybe 30 years or more, and I happen to know Markus has always been a huge Holy Moses fan. In fact, one of the first records that he ever bought was The New Machine of Liechtenstein by Holy Moses.
When I was searching for a label to release our last album, it wasn't easy to find somebody to release it. If you tell someone, "Oh, this is supposed to be our last album. Hope you are fine with it." Fortunately, Markus understood and said, "I'd love to release it, so hand it over."
Markus founded Fireflash Records, and besides Holy Moses, of course, he has also signed other bands and I know he's doing wonderful work because he loves our music. He loves what we do in Holy Moses, and he did such wonderful work with our last album as well. Invisible Queen also reached the fourteenth position on the German album charts a while ago.
Wow, my sincere congrats for that achievement!
Sabina: Thank you. It is unbelievable. Everybody in the band was shocked, in a positive way, of course, and we really couldn't believe it at first. This clearly showed us how hard Markus was working to get this album promoted as much as possible, which felt great, of course!
Do you believe after Holy Moses has come to its end, you will continue in the music business, in one way or the other? What about doing something with Doro whom you've worked with before?
Sabina: I don't think so. I will turn 60 at the end of the year. This is also when the very last show of Holy Moses in Hamburg on the 27th of December will happen. I've worked my whole life in the music business. In my other life, I'm a psychotherapist working with healing horses. I have my little ranch. I think the music scene has been changing a lot. I think the younger metalheads should be more involved with the metal scene. I think I have done my share in the metal community; making records, touring for all these years, doing numerous interviews and such and all this doesn't come easy. If someone asks me for a favor, after my career in Holy Moses and in this business in general, to sing a song for an album or something like that, I might well consider this type of proposal, but not in such a professional way that would demand a lot of effort and time from me.
QUEENS OF METAL
OK, that's understandable. If Doro is the Queen of Heavy Metal, you can certainly be considered the Queen of Thrash Metal. Do you see yourself as such? I mean, when you started in Holy Moses, there were hardly any females who were singing in thrash metal bands and certainly none who have made such a long career in a thrash metal band as you have.
Sabina: I'm a bit shy for that kind of an honorable title, but a lot of people have told me, just like you did, that such a title might suit me. I don't know about that, though. I happen to know I was the first to do this kind of vocal style, growling and everything. Now the queen is making herself invisible, so we had the idea to title the album Invisible Queen. However, I would never say I'm the queen, but I know that I did something for the metal scene and for the girls in the same scene and especially in thrash metal.
HIGHLIGHTS – PAST AND PRESENT
Holy Moses' long history dates to 1980 when you still weren't in the band. However, Holy Moses has been your band for a long time, so I need to ask you what are some of your proudest or most memorable moments as the vocalist of Holy Moses?
Sabina: It's hard to mention just one because there were so many highlights. But I guess the first highlight was definitely when we started as a school band in high school. When we got our first record deal, we could not believe it because for me back in those days, bands like Kiss, AC/DC, Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath, etc. all were recording bands. For me, Holy Moses was a band that we never expected to make any records with. When we got our first record deal and the album was selling pretty well, I simply couldn't believe it. The same goes for our first big shows that we did back then.
I remember, for example, Markthalle Hamburg. Everybody said if you play there, then you are worth something. Then, after some time we played there with D.R.I. and Holy Terror in 1987 and afterwards with Sacred Reich and Forbidden in 1989. We played the first festivals in Holland. For example, Dynamo Open Air was a really big one before Wacken Open Air got started.
As of today, we have played all around the world. We've played in South Korea, Japan, and many other countries. We played the metal cruises, we have played seven times at Wacken Open Air, so we have experienced a lot with Holy Moses through the years.
I can well imagine. Your career is full of many highlights it seems...
Sabina: Yes, it surely has had so many that I cannot possibly remember all of them right now.
What about some of your proudest moments when you feel like, "I'm really proud of my band," being it at some festival show or a meeting with a really lovely fan of the band, etc.
Sabina: Well yesterday evening, for example, made me proud of my band. We played at a small club in Oulu, Finland, which didn't have many people in the crowd, maybe 150-200 all in all. We played the show, and the crowd supported us the whole time we were onstage, making us smile. We were feeling the energy our fans gave to us during that evening and we were also boosted by all that energy so much so that we surely did our best to give them as good a show as possible. After the show was over, it made me feel really proud of my band.
We played at Hellfest in France in front of thousands of people, 10,000, 20,000 people and then clubs, which are packed with 200 people. Both bigger and smaller events are equally important to us because we are always in the same mood, full of energy and ready to deliver the goods for our crowd. I was also really proud of the band when we were writing our last album, and which eventually climbed up the German album charts, taking the fourteenth position. These are the moments that make me say, "Oh my God, what's happening to us?!"
I can fully relate to your feelings regarding all those special moments that you've experienced with Holy Moses. Besides, a supportive crowd works like an extra member of the band. It can bring extra energy into the band, which surely pushes you to give your very best for your fans, right?
Sabina: Absolutely. Absolutely....!
Hearing nonstop chanting, "Holy Moses... Holy Moses!" makes you feel that you have done something right during your evening with the fans...
Sabina: Exactly! Now when you mentioned this chanting thing, I remember a show in Ukraine, which surely is one of my highlights. The concert took place at the beach. At the backstage area, somewhere at the beach, we heard that people were screaming, "Holy Moses... Holy Moses!" At first, I thought they were chanting Slayer's name. Then, I said to myself, "But hey, Slayer is not playing at this festival." I started listening more carefully to what they were really shouting and guess what? They were all shouting, "Holy Moses... Holy Moses!" I was so nervous, and I said to myself, "Oh, my God... I am freaking out now!" It sounded like, "Slayer... Slayer!"
Those are the moments when you obviously think it's great to be in a band...
Sabina: Absolutely true! Those types of moments make life a bit sweeter indeed.
Well, that was all I had in mind for this conversation, so thank you very much, Sabina. It was nice meeting you, and I wish you all the best for your future comings and goings, whatever they might be...
Sabina: Thank you... Thank you for the interview. It was a pleasure. Oh, and if you Finns have time, maybe you can join the last show of this tour, which will take place at Markthalle, Hamburg on the 27th of December this year. There will be a lot of my friends, a lot of other bands and even some surprises during that evening. You are all very warmly welcome to Hamburg to celebrate our very last show. In fact, I believe many fans from all over the world will join us. It will be a really great and memorable event for sure.
|Other information about Holy Moses on this site
|Review: Disorder of the Order
|Review: Agony of Death
|Review: Invisible Queen
|Review: Invisible Queen
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