Drummer Markus „Makka” Freiwald is about Despair’s debut album History of Hate
At the mid/late 80’s thrash metal became very popular in the underground, both in Europe and in the States. Considering Europe, Germany was the leading home of thrash metal: Kreator, Sodom, Destruction and Living Death were the firsts that put German (teutonic) thrash metal on the map of metal. A few years later the scene became oversaturated, so the thrash bands had to start creating something new, unique and fresh. One of Germany’s mysterious act was Despair, that released their debut record History of Hate 30 years ago. Drummer Markus „Makka” Freiwald told me the entire story behind this cult record.
László Dávid: Makka, how did you end up becoming musician? How did your choice fall on drums?
Markus Freiwald: I started to play drums when I was 15 years old. Friends of mine and I wanted to form a band but it was almost impossible to find a drummer, so I decided to change from guitar to drums. The band was called Hailstorm…
L. D.: Who were the musicians that influenced your style? Were you self taught by the way or…?
M. F.: I was definetely influenced by Dave Lombardo, Nicko McBrain etc., because these guys were my Metal Heroes in the 80’s. The most important drummer for me was Steve Gadd. His style and the way he played drums fascinated me and I wanted to become a drummer like him. As you can see, it didn’t work, he is way too good and outrages, hahahaha!
L. D.: Despair was formed in 1986 by singer Robert Kampf, guitarists Waldemar Sorychta and Marek Greschek (R. I. P.), bassist Klaus Pachura and drummer Thomas „Donald” König, but what about your musical experiences as a whole?
M. F.: I grew up with bands like Frank Zappa, Metallica, Slayer, Iron Maiden etc. When I started to play guitar and drums I was just trying to copy these kind of bands, of course, but after a few years I created my own style.
L. D.: You joined them in 1987 after the releasing of their Surviving You Always demo, to which extent were you familiar with Despair? Did you know or like their demo by the way?
M. F.: We rehearsed in the same building (Angel Dust rehearsed there, too). We met almost every day and so we became friends after a while. I was a big fan of Despair in 1986. I heard the tape almost every day and tried to play along with the songs. Donald got fired by the band in 1987, so they asked me to join the band.
L. D.: At the early/mid 80’s a lot of new heavy/speed metal bands were popping up such as Grave Digger, Helloween, Avenger/Rage, Atlain, Running Wild, Iron Force, Living Death, Warrant, Warlock, Stormwitch, Axe Victims, Brainfever, Steeler etc. from every part of Germany and all started making a name for themselves. Did you keep an eye on what’s going on in the German underground scene at this point or were you only caring of your own things? Were you familiar with these bands at all?
M. F.: Not really, we were more into Bay Area thrash at the time. We were listening to bands like Flotsam and Jetsam and Testament. I personally knew the german scene but I was not into it that much.
L. D.: Can be Düsseldorf, Hamburg and the Ruhr area named as the most important parts as for the developing, forming of the German metal scene?
M. F.: It can be. I mean, you can still see how many bands are from these areas. Bands like Kreator, Doro, Destruction, Rage and so on are still on the road and still recording.
L. D.: Do you agree with that the German heavy/speed outfits were heavily influenced by Accept, especially by their Fast as a Shark song.Can it be named as one of the first speed metal tracks of all time?
M. F.: Yes, I agree. Fast as a Shark was the first speed metal song I’ve ever heard. I couldn’t even think about playing the drums sooooo amazing fast at the time.
L. D.: With these huge amount of bands that started their career at this point, was the situation in Germany the same as in Britain with the N.W.O.B.H.M. movement? Were you also familiar with the British outfits?
M. F.: No, not really.
L. D.: In your opinion, were the German bands easily distinguishable from each other in terms of songwriting, producing, sound etc.?
M. F.: Yes, they were definetly distinguishable. Some bands had same producers for instance and the sound was maybe similar to them, but in general all these bands had their own style in songwriting and sound. In the 80’s we were not able to watch YouTube videos to analyze styles,songwriting etc. We had to buy records or tapes to listen to other bands and try to be as good as they are. We had to be creative and had to spend a lot of time rehearsing.
L. D.: Was the Despair demo shopped around for getting fans and/or to attract some labels interests?
M. F.: As far as I know, the demo was quite succesful and caused quite a stir in the scene. When I joined the band, Robert told me that we are going to record an album soon. You can imagine how afraid and nervous I was about the fact that I am going to record my first album.
L. D.: Do you recall any fanzines from those times, such as Battlefield, Blitzkrieg, Metal Warriors, Shock Power etc.? Were you perhaps involved in the fanzine/tape trading circuit at all?
M. F.: A friend of mine started the Visions fanzine. One of the first reviews and interview was with Despair. I wasn’t involved in tape trading or any fanzines.
L. D.: By the mid 80’s was the great thrash metal boom and Germany had an important role in it. A lot of bands came from your country, such as Assassin, Violent Force, Mekong Delta, Vendetta, Paradox, Exumer, Darkness, Deathrow, Rumble Militia, Vectom, Erosion, Grinder etc.. Would you say that Destruction, Kreator and Sodom opened the doors for them and influenced somehow their style?
M. F.: No, I don’t think so. All these bands started their careers almost at the same time, so all of them created their own style. Destruction, Kreator and Sodom were just more successful than the others, that’s it.
L. D.: Do you agree with that these second wave thrash groups weren’t as successful as the big three, but left their mark on the scene, became cult and had their loyal fans?
M. F.: I agree, nothing more to say. I mean, most of them are still around and that’s the proof.
L. D.: You entered the Mohrmann and Music Lab Studios to record your debut album titled History of Hate. How did the recording sessions go?
M. F.: To record the first album in my life was such a great experience and a big honour for me, too. In the end it became a nightmare for me (more details later). I was pretty well prepared in my opinion and so we entered the studio with a good feeling. The drum recording went well and I finished it within 3 days. A few days later we went to Berlin to get the album mixed by Harris Johns. Now, the nightmare took place. Harris told us that the drumtracks were so bad recorded (soundwise), that he couldn’t use them at all, so we decided to record the drumtracks again in Berlin in the Music Lab studios.
Robert and Marek went back to Dortmund to pick up my drumset and in the same night they came back and we started to record the drums again. The biggest problem was that we didn’t record the drums with a click track so I had to use only guitar and whatever was recorded as guide tracks. It was my first time in a studio and I was so unexperienced that it took me ages to get this done. Harris was so pissed about the whole situation, that he was screaming at me all the time. But in the end we did it. I can tell you, after this nightmare I never stopped practicing… hahahaha!
L. D.: The album was produced by Waldemar and mixed by Harris Johns, so was it Waldemar’s first experience as a producer? Did you entrust the mixing to Harris Johns, because he worked earlier with bands, such as Exumer, Tankard, Voivod etc.?
M. F.: Yes, it was Waldemar’s first experience as a producer. Harris was the first choice for us. He had a big name in the scene and everybody went there to record their albums. Who else could we trust?
L. D.: Do you agree with that History of Hate is a technical thrash/speed record with some hardcore touches because of Robert’s voice?
M. F.: Yes, because Robert was a hardcore kid and he was completely influenced by this style.
L. D.: Did the album show any similarities to Deathrow, Mekong Delta, Release from Agony era Destruction or did you have an own style and sound?
M. F.: I think we created our own style. Waldemar and Marek were so creative and productive in writing songs that we never stopped to rehearse. We met almost every day in the rehearsal room to write new songs. Of course we listened to all these bands but we never tried to copy them.
L. D.: Were the songs on the same level as Watchtower, Realm, Toxic, Coroner or Mekong Delta?
M. F.: I wouldn’t talk about levels in music. Music is art and art is not comparable in my opinion. Technical wise there are many musicians in the world who are better than others but that doesn’t mean that they can write songs which reaches the hearts of the consumer.
L. D.: Did the songs contain plenty of technical riffs, melodic leads and solos that helped the album easier to remember? I mean, are the tracks easy remarkable?
M. F.: No, not at all and that’s the reason why we are going to rerecord the first album.
L. D.: Would you name History of Hate as a varied album? There are ordinary, utter speed tracks, such as Freedom Now, Outconditioned or Joy Division, tempo changes such as Slaves of Power, the title track and the epic Constructing the Apocalypse?
M. F.: Yes, definitely. We even had too many parts in the songs…
L. D.: Was it a great debut and still sounds viable by today’s standards?
M. F.: It was a great debut but the today’s standard is so high that it is not comparable anymore.
L. D.: Would you say that Despair was an obscure band to not make it to the top of the scene, but staying in the underground far from the mainstream?
M. F.: Of course.
L. D.: Were you perhaps overlooked as playing this kind of progressive, technical thrash metal that wasn’t so popular?
M. F.: No, I don’t think so. I played in so many bands and I played so many records as a studio drummer.
L. D.: Is Despair a representative of the more refined part of the German speed/thrash scene?
M. F.: No, I don’t think so.
L. D.: The album was released by Century Media Records, that became Robert’s label. Do you perhaps know where did come him the idea to establish an own label from? Was his goal with the label to release History of Hate?
M. F.: It’s quite easy to answer. Robert told me that some record labels were interested in signing a contract with the band but he was never satisfied about the details and decided to create his own label to feature Despair himself.
L. D.: The first signed bands of the label besides Despair were Liar, Rumble Militia and Poltergeist, werent they?
M. F.: Yes, Liar, Morgoth, Crows and Poltergeist were the first signings after Despair.
L. D.: Were there any shows in support of the record? How about your live gigs at this point?
M. F.: Yes, the first tour we ever did was legendary. Death and Despair all over Europe. I will never forget this amazing experience.
L. D.: How did you view the late 80’s/early 90’s underground scene? Would you say that the scene started becoming oversaturated at this point?
M. F.: The scene became oversaturated a bit later. The sales at this time were amazing high and not comparable with the sales today.
L. D.: Since last year Despair is active again, including you on drums, Waldemar on guitars, Marc Grewe on vocals, and Marius Ickert on bass. What are your future plans?
M. F.: We finished most of the recordings for the rerecording of the History of Hate album. We will try to play some gigs in the future and have some fun..
L. D.: Are you still touch with Robert and Klaus Pachura these days? Is Klaus still involved in the music scene?
M. F.: I am still in contact with Robert and Klaus. We are friends and meet each other from time to time. Klaus played with us on our first gig. He played one song.
L. D.: My last question: what happened with Marek Greschek?
M. F.: No comment, sorry.. It is so sad….
L. D.: Makka, thanks a lot for the interview! Any closing words from you?
M. F.: Thanks for your time to read the interview! I hope we are going to see each other somewhere at a live gig. Stay metal and keep the spirit alive!