Interview with guitarist Dominik Rothe
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: November 23, 2023
Germany's Taskforce Toxicator have been thrashing their hearts out for the past seven years and have had a number of shorter releases in that time. They've now released their debut studio album, which carries the name Laser Samurai, via Germany's Iron Shield Records in September of 2023. These German thrashers are determined to work their asses off, that's for sure.
Guitarist Dominik Rothe was up for telling The Metal Crypt what's going on in the Taskforce Toxicator camp and what some of their plans are for winning more favorable thrash ground for themselves.
Hello there, Dominik! How's it kicking in Germany in the fall of 2023?
Dominik: Hey Luxi, everything's fine here, hope it is with you as well! The weather is getting colder, and the rain comes down almost every day. Autumn has finally arrived! Other than that, things are going pretty well for us in Taskforce Toxicator and more stuff is already in the works.
You released your debut studio album via Iron Shield Records this September, with 10 songs and titled Laser Samurai. Would you kindly enlighten us about the songwriting and recording processes, and how you shaped your songs before entering the studio to record them?
Dominik: It took us a few years to develop the songs for Laser Samurai. Most existed in rough demo form when we recorded our second EP, Reborn in Thrash, in 2020. Back then, we had discussed making that EP an actual album, but I objected to that idea. For our drummer Lysander, it was the first time recording in a studio. We weren't all that active between April 2018 and April 2019, since we didn't have a drummer for that time and I felt that we needed to find ourselves as a band again. Our tour at the end of 2019 was the first step of growing closer, the recording of Reborn in Thrash was the second step. Doing that EP taught us a lot about the recording process and especially about how important good pre-production is in order to get the most out of the songs you want to record. Making this an EP was the right decision back then. Not only did we learn a lot about recording, which we then used to improve the recording process for Laser Samurai, but it also gave us additional time to work on the songs that are now on the album and make them as good as possible.
The songwriting process was mostly me delivering rough demos of the songs with rhythm guitars and programmed drums, so that we all had an idea of where the songs should go. Fabi and Lars also contributed to the writing with ideas for the songs "Death from Above" and "Product of Profession," respectively. Then we discussed those very rough demos within the band and looked at what worked and what didn't. Everyone added his personal flavor to the songs and then we tried them out in the rehearsal room. After that we adjusted the demo recordings where we felt change was needed and then we gave them to our producer, Cornelius Rambadt, to give him an idea of what we wanted for the album. After that Lysander recorded the drums in his studio before we did the guitars and bass at my home. Then Fabi entered the studio to do his vocals. And finally Corny did the Mix and Dennis Koehne the mastering to finalize the album. Both have worked with bands like Bonded, Darkness, and Sodom in the past so they really know what they are doing and what kind of sound old school thrash metal needs.
NEW BLOOD IN THE BAND
How did you share the songwriting responsibilities on your debut, or have your songwriting methods stayed pretty much intact since the days of the Reborn in Thrash EP, which was released in January 2021? What about the band's new bassist Hendrik Klahold; did he bring something new to the way you write your songs?
Dominik: The songwriting went pretty much the same way it always does in Taskforce Toxicator. Everyone can develop his own ideas at home and then bring them to the rest of the band. Most of the time, the basic ideas for the songs come from my corner, but "Death from Above" would have never been possible without the intro riff Fabi contributed. He once showed me a demo of his when we were hanging around at his place. I immediately asked him if I could use that riff for one of my songs, because it was exactly what that track needed. He agreed and that's how "Death from Above" finally came to life. "Product of Profession," on the other hand, was mainly Lars' idea. I just added one riff and reworked some of the other riffs a little bit and then sent my ideas to him. He liked it and we went on to develop the rest of the song from there. So, everyone can contribute ideas to the songwriting, but not everyone does in the same way, which doesn't mean that the members aren't equally important for the overall process. For example, when Lysander and I sat down to arrange the drums for all the songs, he showed me some stuff about the timing of riffs and melodies that I wasn't even aware of, because he knows a lot more about rhythms and timing than I do. Meanwhile Lars played most of the guitar solos on Laser Samurai and that's the way he influenced how songs like the title track and "Funeral Feast" turned out in the end. Unfortunately, Hendrik couldn't contribute as much to the album, since the songs were already written when he joined the band. That will change on the next record.
What are Hendrik's best assets as a member of the band, from your perspective?
Dominik: His best asset as a musician is that he is an actual bass player. What I mean by that is that Oli, for example, was a guitarist who started to play bass because we needed a bass player. He played bass like he would play guitar just with more of the low end in his sound. There's nothing wrong with that attitude. Hendrik thinks like a bass player and plays like one, because bass is his main instrument. He doesn't always follow the guitar riffs and plays some complementary stuff instead, which gives the music more depth. We already worked together on some demos for a potential second album and his playing style really advances our music, and I personally can't wait to work on more songs with him. Besides that, he's just an overall great guy who's always honest and straight to the point, which makes communicating with him really easy. He came to one rehearsal and there was no question he was the right man to take over bass duties in Taskforce Toxicator from now on.
You and Hendrik also play in a death/thrash combo called Cerebral Invasion. Do you believe this fact makes things easier for all of you in T.T., since he has already proven his skills in that band, and proved to be the kind of guy who is really easy to work with?
Dominik: Yes, that we knew each other from Cerebral Invasion definitely helped. I already knew what it was like working with him in a band and I had the strong feeling that he would fit perfectly in Taskforce Toxicator. I recently left Cerebral Invasion due to other musical possibilities I want to pursue in the future so, I'm all the more happy that Hendrik joined Taskforce Toxicator, because that means we still make some ass-kicking music together.
Laser Samurai continues your sort of fixation on this Star Wars theme. Do you think the Star Wars trilogy and thrash metal are something of a perfect match?
Dominik: I don't know if they are a perfect match, but since three of us are major Star Wars fans, this influence just comes to us naturally. The original Star Wars trilogy is a timeless classic in that it has something in common with classic albums like Master of Puppets or Bonded by Blood. Now that I think about it that way, maybe they are a perfect match after all, haha! But it's not just Star Wars. Other sci-fi classics like Alien or Blade Runner also heavily influenced the visual style of our artworks and Fabi's lyrics. This will continue on the next record, and we will bring back our on-stage lightsaber soon in an upgraded form!
Do you think Luke Skywalker's shining lightsaber could save the whole world if used more wisely by the troops of Taskforce Toxicator? ;o)
Dominik: Hehe, that is definitely a possibility! Maybe we should pay him a visit and take his lightsaber away from him. He didn't use the green one in The Last Jedi anyway, so it seems like he doesn't need it anymore. By the way, Luke's green lightsaber from Return of the Jedi is my favorite lightsaber of all time. So, stealing and therefore owning it would mean a lot to me on a different level as well, haha!
Okay, let's get a tad more serious. As Laser Samurai has been out less than two months, are you happy with the responses you've received so far? Has some of this feedback exceeded your personal expectations?
Dominik: Yes. The reactions didn't just exceed our expectations, they blew them through the roof! All the reviews were very positive, some giving us a 9/10 or even 10/10. We sometimes couldn't believe our eyes when we read those reviews. I mean, we are very proud of this album, and we know we created some really cool tunes but, in the end, you never know how people are going to respond to your music. We couldn't be happier with the reactions we've gotten in the last two months, be it online through reviews, comments, and personal messages, or at our shows where the people just went crazy for the new songs. We are very happy with all the feedback, and the record is selling really well, especially the vinyl version. The release of the album feels like a big step forward for us in every way, since we also got to play some great support gigs like the show we did with Sodom in September or more recently at Ragers Elite Festival in Hamm with bands like Stallion and Insanity Alert. The last two months were great for the band, and we are sure there is more great stuff coming for us down the road.
Since your debut album was released in September, has that brought extra attention to the band, like more interview and gig requests or are you hoping to get more attention than you've received so far?
Dominik: Yes, the band definitely gets more attention than ever before, be it in magazines or on YouTube. We also get more gig requests and have developed great relationships with other bands more and more. We want to build on that in the future. That show we did with Sodom was insane. We had to play a 75-minute set, longer than we had ever played before, because the other support band canceled on the day of the show due to illness. We didn't know how people would respond to the support band playing such a long show, but they went completely crazy the whole time. They even screamed for an encore when we were finished. It almost felt like we were the headliner. Playing for such a large crowd of around 1000 people was an amazing experience and we aim to get more gigs like that in the future to further push the band forward.
Even if your music is hard-boiled thrash with some crossover elements, do you think it's still essential to have that "party" vibe in your sound so that people can mosh, headbang, dance, jump around, or whatever, at your gigs?
Dominik: I mean, yeah, we definitely want people to jump around, bang their heads and just go crazy in every possible way at our shows but I'm not sure if this crossover vibe is essential for that. We already have some demos for our next record in the works. They still sound like 100% Taskforce Toxicator, but I would say that they have less of that party vibe overall, our music can work without it. It depends on what the songs we are working on need. It sounds a bit esoteric, but in the end the music itself drives the artist and not the other way round. At least that's my experience. If a song develops into a party thrash song, then that's what it needs to be. If it develops a darker tone, like "Snow Controlled" for example, that's what it needs to be. We don't sit down and say, "We want that kind of song next." We just see where the inspiration drives us and let the songs develop naturally. Trying to force something doesn't make sense to us and I'm pretty sure it wouldn't work anyways.
What can your crowds expect when they come to see your show? Some salesman's skills are needed at this point, so try to sell your band to them the best you can... ;o)
Dominik: They can expect pure energy and passion, which explodes on stage once we play the first note. We always give 110% at every show. That is basically what we live for. As great as making an album is, playing those songs live for the people who like some ass-kicking thrash metal is the best thing in the world. And that is the kind of feeling we want to share with people who come to our gigs. We want them to leave with a feeling of release, release from the stress and the frustration that our everyday life often puts upon us. Our shows are always like a big party where everyone can come as they are and enjoy themselves with a bunch of like-minded people.
THE IMPORTANCE OF MERCHANDISE
Since gigs aren't always as profitable for many bands these days, it's important to have a nice selection of different merchandise at your gigs for sale. How important do you see this aspect for Taskforce Toxicator?
Dominik: We try to have a good variety of merch with us at our shows. Timon Kokott always delivers great artworks for our records, that are meant to be on shirts as well. But we also have patches, which are selling pretty well. We always keep our prices as low as possible, for the merch itself and for shipping as well. And we still have an eye on quality. Jaren Brauns from East Merch, who started making our shirts in 2021 is a really good guy for that. The shirts are very robust, and the printing is always flashy and strong. But yeah, just like you said, merch is where the money is, so we see that we at least make a little bit of profit from selling that stuff, so we have some cash for upcoming investments into the band. We don't make any actual money from this. Every penny we get finds its way right back into recordings, videos, making more merch and stuff like that.
A guy named Janis Prögler directed, filmed, and edited a video for the song "Laser Samurai" for you guys roughly about three months ago. Did publishing this video give you the needed impact to get more visibility and attention for the band?
Dominik: To be honest, not really. Yes, the video got really good responses from the people who watched it, but it didn't get as many views as we hoped. "If It Bleeds," on the other hand, is a totally different affair. That one's doing way better than we ever imagined. We honestly didn't think it would do as well as it has. It has quickly become the most watched video on our YouTube channel and people are going crazy for that song at our shows. That's how it goes sometimes. Once the stuff gets released, it is out of our hands what people will really respond to and what they won't. "Breaking the Walls" for example is a song that we often discussed about taking out of the setlist, because some of us feel like we have written a lot of stronger songs since it was released. But every time we play it live, the people just go crazy and everyone who knows the words, screams them out loud. And that's why it will most probably stay in the set forever. It doesn't matter how much you think your music through, you never know what people will like. And while we play mostly the new stuff nowadays, we still want to give people who supported us from the beginning what they want to hear. And if they want to hear "Breaking the Walls," that's what they get.
How important do you consider the making of videos in today's tough music markets when there are countless new bands trying to win a slice of attention for themselves?
Dominik: Music videos aren't as important as they were in the age of MTV, but they are still an indispensable piece of promotional material for every band out there. YouTube is a very important platform to get people to know your band and therefore you need videos, because that's what people expect on YouTube. It doesn't even have to be an extremely spectacular video. I once had a talk with Jarvis Leatherby from Night Demon and he told me about a meeting with their label when they discussed the promotion for their most recent album, Outsider. The label basically said that they should just do performance videos and nothing with a narrative in it, because statistics show that performance videos are the ones that work best on YouTube. And a performance video is something that pretty much every band can create. So, every band should at least do one of those videos if they release an album, EP, single or whatever, because then people get to not just hear the music, but also see the people behind it, which immediately makes for a more personal connection between the band and a fan or a potential new fan.
You have a gig coming up on December 2nd with Grindpad and Infestation, and it will take place in a city called Müenster. Apparently, the attendees can expect a triple-mosh night, just feel free to correct me if I am completely wrong about this...
Dominik: You are absolutely right about this! That will be one hell of a night. We played with Grindpad at Kafest in Czechia last year. They are great guys with great music and are also labelmates. We can't wait to play with them in Münster and destroy the place together. Infestation is a band that hit us up on Instagram about doing something together. When we were searching for a third band for that evening, we came back to them. They recently released their first album as well and we are pretty excited to have them at our show. That will be a great evening and the final show of our 2023 "Laser Samurai" tour. The first shows for 2024 are already announced and we have more stuff in the works, which we can't wait to finally announce.
PLANS FOR NEXT YEAR?
What kind of plans do you have on the table for 2024?
Dominik: We have some shows planned already. In January we will play in the Netherlands and possibly Belgium for the first time and there are other shows already set as well. Maybe we'll do one or two additional music videos for our album. And of course, we'll also work on some now music for the next record. Our demos are still pure thrash but go in a different direction than what we did so far. We always want to evolve our sound and the second album will be the next logical step in that evolution.
I think that is it on my part, so thank you, Dominik, for taking your time in this torture chair of crazy questions and, of course, all the be(a)st to you and your band in the months to come. May the sword (eh!) be with you. Any better and/or more reasonable closing comments perhaps?
Dominik: Thanks a lot for your great review and this interview as well! We really appreciate your support! And also huge thanks to everyone who read this interview and showed interest in our music. All of this wouldn't make sense without people like you. We can't wait to hit the road again soon and hope to be able to play in any part of the world so that we get the chance to meet each one of you out there one day at the front of the stage.
|Other information about Taskforce Toxicator on this site
|Review: Laser Samurai
|Interview with guitarist Dominik Rothe on February 25, 2021 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)
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