Ex-Gravestone bassist Dietmar „Oli“ Orlitta about the beginnings and Victim of Chains album
1984 was the great heavy metal boom in Germany. Bands such as Grave Digger, Warlock, Running Wild, Living Death etc. released their first albums, all of them trying to make a name themselves and created a style that became Teutonic Speed Metal. Illertissen based outfit Gravestone published its first album also in 1984, but their roots and past were total different compared to the aforementioned acts. Former bassist Dietmar „Oli“ Orlitta told us an old story…
Oli, you joined Gravestone in 1980, but what about your musical past? Did you play in several bands before you became the member of Gravestone?
Hi Leslie, thanks for this interview! I feel very honoured. So let me first say, that I’m not sure about the exactly date I joined the band – I guess it’s been in 1979, but it doesn’t really matter. Before I had played the bass in a cover-band named Sphinx. Together with Dieter Behle, who has played the drums. We did some stuff from Toto, Status Quo, CCR and also traditional german music, actually we played dance-music.
How did you pick up the bass and what were your influences becoming bass player?
I started playing quite late. When I was 15, my aunt gave me a classical guitar. Then of course I wanted to play rock music and soon I bought an Ibanez, a Gibson SG replica. So I tortured my old tube radio, it sounded almost like a distorted Marshall, haha… That was fun… Then one evening, while I was playing guitar – just for fun – in the youth club of my hometown… I guess I was playing Sweet Caroline of Status Quo… Dieter Behle stood there and asked me if I wanted to play the bass in his band. Because my focus had been on the guitar up to this time, there were not really any bass players, that had influenced me, maybe with the exception of Suzi Quatro, whose music I loved, but certainly not only because of her bass playing. 🙂
Were you aware of that Gravestone originally started as Heizkörper in 1975 by Rudi Dorner (guitars) and Mike Schmidt (drums), and when in 1976 they were joined by Berti Majdan (bass, later vocals), they changed name to Oregon. In early 1977, when they were joined by Wolfgang Rittner (guitars) and Andy Müller (keyboards/vocals – R.I.P.), they changed name again to Gravestone. What was the idea of Berti Majdan?
Yes, the formation of the band was in Illertissen in the high-school „Kolleg der Schulbrüder“, which I attended. All band members were at this school. I was in the same class as Rudi Dorner and Mike Schmitt. Of course I knew of his band Heizkörper and I heard also the fact that they changed their name to Oregon. Oregon they chose because our coolest English teacher, Christopher Carlberg, came from there. At this time, except of Rudi and Mike, I did not known the other band members personally. Some day, I went to a Gravestone gig and was immediately infected by their exceptional music. Actually, Gravestone inspired me to start learning guitar, I also wanted make music like them. The name Gravestone was a random idea of Berti, as far as I know.
Do you still remember how did you get in the picture exactly? Were you the first choice or were there other bassists auditioned as well?
When Wolfgang Rittner, Mike Schmitt and Berti Majdan had left the band, Dieter Behle and I heard about this. So we took the chance and asked Rudi, if he could imagine to rebuild the band together with us. He was very pleased about this and then he also asked Taki Gradl, a friend of him, to play the second guitar in the new formation. Also Andy Müller came again, so we were almost completely. From then on our rehearsals took place in a cellar in the house of Dieter’s parents and we stopped playing in the former band Sphinx. So, there was no audition for me and no need to check other bassists.
To which extent were you familiar with the music of the band? Would you say that Gravestone were one of the first German heavy metal/hard rock outfits along with Accept, Scorpions and Faithful Breath?
When I got in the band, the style was influenced by the already existing songs of the old line-up. Upon this stuff we basically built our new music, as it can be heard on the album War. The most basic ideas came from Rudi Dorner, who was a fan of a German band called Jane. The long melodic solos he played were the result of this. But basically the music came from ourselves and was not consciously influenced of a certain genre. Finally the real heavy metal style took place with Mathias Dieth, who probably also has brought influences of groups like Accept or Scorpions into the band.
How could you sum up Gravestone’s early musical style? They released Doomsday (1979) and War (1980); how would you describe these records?
It was experimental, progressive and honest rock music. Not perfect but played from the heart.
After the release of War some major line-up changes happened: new guitarists Mathias Dieth and Klaus Reinelt joined the band and Berti Majdan came back, too. What happened exactly?
At the time when we recorded War, Berti Majdan already was a member of the band. But unfortunately he was not able to sing on the record, because he had signed a recording contract with the producer Hardy Ruminski under the pseudonym Bert Ardi. Ruminski had forbidden him to sing on our LP.
Because Rudi served in the Army, he often missed the rehearsals. One day in the year 1981, Taki brought his friend along for a jam session – he was Klaus (Doc) Reinelt. Klaus did some heavy riffs and solos on the guitar and so there was a discussion to replace Rudi by Klaus. For me, this was unbearable, because he was a founding member. I liked Rudi and he was a good friend. I did not want that, but the others decided this change and Rudi and Andy Müller left the band. We moved to the house of Klaus’s parents in a nicer and larger rehearsal space. In 1982 Taki quit due to personal problems, if I remember correctly, and he was replaced by Mathias Dieth.
What about the musical backround of Mathias and Klaus? How did the bands choice fall on them?
Klaus had played in the band Solar Plexus before. The choice for him fell during several jam sessions we did, while Rudi served in the Army. Mathias was a guitarist in the band Dust and I think it was Berti or Klaus, who knew him and asked him to join us, but I’m not quite sure. To take him into the band was not really a hard decision, when you heard his skills on the guitar. Klaus and Mathias were on about the same level and it was fantastic to hear them play together. Now, two Marshall Towers dominated the rehearsals, fuckin loud and heavy. This was the main change to be inspired by bands like Scorpions or Van Halen.
Between War and Victim of Chains passed four years; how about this period as a whole? Were you continuously writing new material?
Yes, we did some new songs, the style changed and got more commercial, there are actually some records, but not for the public.
What made you turn into a heavier direction compared to the first two albums? Would you say that you discovered a lot of new bands, such as Jaguar, Raven, Judas Priest, Grim Reaper etc.?
This change came with Klaus Reinelt and Mathias Dieth, who obviously were influenced by bands like Judas Priest, etc.
At which point did you start working on your third effort Victim of Chains? How about the songcomposing? I mean, who was responsible for the music and for the lyrics?
When Mathias joined the band, we officially started playing heavy. Most of the riffs came from Dieth and Reinelt. On the rehearsals we took those ideas and composed the songs, most times with lyrics made by Berti Majdan, as I remember.
How and when did you get in touch with Scratch Records, that was formed in 1983? Was Scratch an independent label or did they belong to Gama?
As I know Scratch was a sublabel, but I am not shure about this. The guys from Gama were Garratoni and Marek, we were contacted by them after our short gig in the Hans-Martin-Schleyer Hall in Stuttgart, which had been on TV.
When did you enter the studio recording the material? How did the recording sessions go?
I don’t remember the date exactly, but it must have been between April and July 1984. The recordings went over about two weeks. I did my bass parts within four days and I lost my job for this, because my chief had forbidden me to stay away from work, what I ignored.
Could you give us detailed informations about the record in terms of songs, sound, cover etc.?
Hm… okay. The songs are:
1. Fly Like an Eagle – Very hard and fast with an incredible high voice.
2. Death and Reality – A damned rockin hard rock song.
3. Son of the Freeway – What a riff ! What a melody! What a song! This is my favorite song of the album!
4. So Sad – A wonderful rock ballad, especially the solo of Mathias gives me doose-bumps!
5. The Hour – A song with a message? Or just a song to sing you a song? The audience decides! Just listen to the guitars, this is how good guitar players sound together…
6. For a Girl – A song with a history. The riff was taken out of an older song from 1982 and there is a record, but unfortunately this is no stuff to be published. I remember that For a Girl was pretty difficult to get it on tape.
7. Rock ‘n’ Roll Is Easy – A traditional song out of the music scene Ulm. It is also the best known of the album.
8. The Bells of Notre Dame – Guitar porn, made by Doc Reinelt.
9. Blind Rage – The oldest song on the album. This was the first Heavy song we created.
About the sound of the album you should know, that it has been mastered by the same guy who mastered the Scorpions – you can hear this if you listen closely to the guitars.
How happened that in the song So Sad Thomas Sabisch was playing ont he bass?
When they mastered the records, they decided to do a quieter bass line under the verse-part and accidentally Sabisch was as a guest in the studio at this time, so they asked him to do this for me, because I wasn’t present.
Do you agree with that Gravestone, especially Victim of Chains can be described as the German Grim Reaper?
No, we had our own style that was different from theirs.
Is the record a formidable metal assault, an exceptional melodic German metal, with speed metal touches and anthems laden throughout, tons of furious energy?
Man, what the hell do you smoke? This stuff is just heavy metal music and nothing fuckin else, haha!
What do you think about that Gravestone were armed with all the same Teutonic artillery as your more famous countrymen?
Music is not a war, it should influence people peacefully, not agressively. I don’t like such comparisons and speak in such terms about music.
How was the album received by the fans and by the press? Were there any shows or tours in support of the record? How much promotion, support did you get from Scratch at all?
I don’t know, because I left Gravestone shortly after the recordings for Victim of Chains.
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, Living Death, Warrant, Stormwitch, Stormwind, Warlock, Vampyr etc. from every part of Germany, 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?
No, I was actually not interested in Heavy Metal anymore, my interest in music changed, there was a cut when I left the band.
Can Düsseldorf, Hamburg and the Ruhr Area named as the most important parts/areas as for German metal?
Maybe, but I think there were other good bands from other areas, too, in Stuttgart and Ulm, for example.
How happened that the majority of the bands vanished from sight after releasing one or two albums? Would you say that the German market was oversaturated at this point?
No. I think many bands were formed when their members were students and they spent a lot of time and energy in those years, they were creative and had ambitions to become famous. But most of them had to make the decision between making music and doing a job, because life costs money. The other reason may be that at last it’s a hard bussines and not all bands could be successful. By the way, new styles appeared like Grunge, Neue Deutsche Welle, Hip Hop, Techno, Trance, etc. and so there was a wider spectrum of musical styles.
Do you agree with that the German heavy/speed outfits were heavily influenced by Accept, especially by their Fast As a Shark, that can be named as one of the first speed metal tracks of all time?
Yes, I agree, this was on their album Restless and Wild and I think it influenced many guitarists to experiment this style.
In your opinion, were the German bands easily distinguishable from each other in terms of songwriting, producing, sound etc.?
I think so, for an insider at least every band sounded different.
How do you view, is Gravestone one of the most truly underrated and unknown German Heavy Metal acts?
Gravestone was a great band, no question, but I would not overrate this.
When and why did you decide to leave the band? Did you part ways on a friendly term at the end?
The music had become too one-sided for me and I could not identify with it anymore. This fact and some private reasons meant that I left the band. Absolutely, it was my decision, there was no dispute and it was my idea that Thomas Sabisch should play the bass.
Did you remain in touch with them at all? Did you follow Gravestone’s career? What do you think about their next effort?
Actually, I had no contact. There was a cut in my life. Only incidental I sometimes got information about Gravestone. But at least I went to a few concerts.
What up to you these days? Are you still into Metal or did you totally get out of the music industry?
I am completely out, no more Metal, just solid Rock Music. I have been in several bands, did some projects and cover music. I played the music I liked.
Do you still follow what’s going on in the metal scene? Are there new bands or records that made a great effect on you these days or do you rather prefer the old classics?
Sometimes I read about new metal bands in the internet or I watch YT Metal Videos, okay, but it’s not quite my music, I tend rather to hard rock and blues rock.
What are your first ten all time fave metal albums and why?
There are of course a lot of more excellent albums, but these are my favorites:
1. Black Sabbath: Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
2. Iron Maiden: The Number of the Beast
3. Guns N’ Roses: Appetite for Destruction
4. AC/DC: Highway to Hell
5. Thin Lizzy: Live and Dangerous
6. Rainbow: Rising
7. Van Halen: Van Halen
8. Metallica: Master of Puppets
9. Motörhead: No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith
10. Saxon: Wheels of Steel
…don’t ask why ! 🙂
Oli, thank you for your answers! Anything to add to this feature?
Your welcome! Thank you for your interest in me and my story – probably very few people will be interested, but thanks to all those who have read to the end. I would like to give you a few thoughts – my personal message to the other musicians, so to say: music for me has always been a special form of art. One can thus carry the major themes of love up to hatred, of war to peace. Like almost no other artist, a musician can express all facets of life and of existence in his songs while he still lets the audiences free to interpret things in their own way.
Heavy Metal is one of the styles that can be used to convey feelings and ideas. But the style actually is only the packaging, the content is the essence! As a convinced pacifist, and vegan living guy I can’t tolerate violent content, Racism or Nazism and I reject strictly such elements in music. My grandfathers were in WW2 on the front and I know from direct sources that there is nothing worse than the horrors of war. Nevertheless, there is a never-ending war just going on here on this planet. I mean the permanent mass destruction of animals for the purpose of food production. This is in my opinion a really great theme, for art should take care nowadays. Human liberation and animal liberation. Peace and freedom for all!