Marc Grewe about Morgoth’s 30-year-old album Cursed
It’s quite interesting – at least for me – that while Germany made a huge influence on the thrash scene in the 80’s, in Death Metal German outfits couldn’t compete with American, Dutch or Swedish ones. When the genre reached its heyday at the late 80’s/early 90’s, only early Atrocity and Morgoth had the talent to come up with quality material. The latter band released its debut album Cursed 30 years ago, and former bassist/vocalist (only vocalist later on) Marc Grewe told us about this record.
Marc, is it correct that your original band name during the very early days was Cadaverous Smell, Exterminator (1985), then Minas Morgul (1985-1987), and since you were all lovers of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, you chose the name Morgoth in the end in 1987?
That is absolutely correct. Harry Busse and myself joined the band in late ’86/early ’87 and then the name was changed into Minas Morgul, before changing it to Morgoth later that year, 1987.
Did the line up consist of you bass/vocals, Harald Busse, the late Carsten Otterbach guitars and Rüdiger Hennecke drums right from the start? Do you still remember how you got together?
As I said, it was in late ’86 or early ’87, when Harry and me joined the band, and that is when you could actually speak of a band. Before that it was Rüdiger playing on drums and Carsten playing on guitar.
You were in the mid of your teens, weren’t you? Were all of you involved in the tapetrading/fanzine circuit at that time?
We were like 16/17 years old. Back then we didn’t really had anything to tapetrade yet. That’s why we were so eager to record a demo, so we could tapetrade with other bands.
Would you say, while Germany was known for its Thrash/Speed Metal bands, Death Metal didn’t have a strong background or fanbase in the country at the mid/late 80’s?
There wasn’t a scene for this kind of music at all, or at least we didn’t know about it until we had a demo tape, hahaha! Back then, there were no magazines that would cover that sort of music. It was at times when even now bigger magazines laughed about early outputs of Sepultura’s Schizophrenia and Death’s Scream Bloody Gore, and gave ’em 0 points in reviews. I remember journalists who bashed that kind of music were kissing Max’s ass when Sepultura got big 2 years later. Bunch of bigotten cunts, hahaha!
You released the Pits of Utumno demo in 1988. Did it really represent what you wanted to achieve with the band?
At that time it was the best we could get out of us, as we weren’t able to finance a studio (still going to school). We worked in our school holidays to buy some equipment and to record ourselves in our rehearsal room. At that time it was like a dream come true to have a self-produced tape, that we could trade with other bands and fans (i.e. vodka with fans from the back then still existing iron curtain).
At which point were you signed by Century Media? Did you perhaps get offers from other companies as well?
No, all other record labels back then had the same behaviour like these before mentioned „journalists“ that only bashed that kind of music as shit. Back then it was only CMR and NB who were into that stuff. I mean CMR was a one-man label that had done one record before signing us, which was the band of the singer/record label owner Robert Kampf. So yes, they were the only ones who were interested.
It seems Morgoth was one of the first signings of the label, wasn’t it? Did you manage with the Resurrection Absurd and The Eternal Fall EPs to expand your fanbase?
Yes, I guess we were band number two or three on the label. And yes, the Resurrection Absurd was a huge success to the label and us. We didn’t expect anything, but there was a huge demand for extreme music back then. The Eternal Fall was getting even more attention, and it was also mixed by Scott Burns in Morrisound.
Was it a good idea from the label to release those materials together as well?
Well, it was good at the time how it went. We had the opportunity to join great tours like the Bloodbrother Tour 89/90 with Pestilence and Autopsy and the Gore & Agony Over Europe together with Demolition Hammer and Obituary.
A line up change had taken place since the release of The Eternal Fall, as you gave up the bass duties and new bassist Sebastian Swart (ex-Dark Millennium) joined the band. What was the reason for it?
Well, the songwriting got more complex over the years and I wasn’t able to deliver 100% on both instruments anymore, so I had to take a decision between vocals and bass, and it was 100% clear that I was more into doing vocals than playing bass. Sebastian Swart joined after the album recordings of Cursed I think (around Christmas 1990). First show with him was 23rd of December,1990 in Fagersta/Sweden.
Was he immediately your first choice or did you maybe audition other bassplayers as well?
We all lived in the countryside back then, and there wasn’t a pool of musicians you could choose from. Harry Busse asked Sebastian if he was interested in joing the band, as we knew he was playing guitars for Dark Millennium.
When did you start working on Curse? Did also Sebastian have a hand in the songwriting process? How long did it take for you to come up with newer songs with him respectively?
I think Cursed was written in the summer of 1990 until December 1990, so that was before Sebastian joined the band.
Is it correct that for Cursed, the band rehearsed in an old slaughterhouse, and in the very next room, you would listen to the screams of dying sheep, which also helped inspire the brutal nature of the vocals?
Yes, that´s absolutely correct!
From what I know, the region you grew up in, it was full of hills and dark woods, which made an impression on the band and their music. While both EPs were made at the Mohrmann Studios, you entered the Woodhouse to record the material. Didn’t you want to go to Morrisound instead?
Well, of course I think it’s in your inner self that you get influenced by the surroundings that you live in, so yes, it probably had an impact, even if we didn’t know it back then. Well, recording in Germany was of course also a matter of costs. CMR still wasn’t a super big label as they are now. Everything had to be practical. Our producer Dirk Dreager recorded with his own band The Short Romans in the Woodhouse, and he mentioned to try it out. We were the first ever metal band that recorded there and the owner Siggi Bemm was shocked about the sound when he first heard us. He was mostly recording Kraut Rock bands before that. But the old Woodhose Studios was great!! We got the chance to mix the Cursed album with Randy Burns in Los Angeles at Music Grinder.
Was it comfortable for you to work at home?
Yes, it was good that we were able to stay at home during the recording. Dortmund is only a half hour away from our hometown Meschede.
Did you consider producer Dick Draeger as experienced and professional as Tomas Skogsberg, Colin Richardson or Scott Burns?
We knew Dirk from day one. We were a band as his band was having a rehearsal room next to ours in the slaughterhouse. So he often hung out at our place listening to the songs, giving practical advices here and there. He was like 6-7 years older than we were and his band had a major record deal, so he taught us a lot of things. Musically, but also businesswise. He was the perfect match for the early Morgoth years for sure.
What do you recall of the recording sessions?
Very professional, concentrated and detailed. We had never been so picky about stuff before and we also had this respect for recording in a real big, professional studio.
Did Morgoth have its own unique way of writing the darkest Death Metal songs while you were paying hommage to your obvious influences (Death and Obituary)?
Mmmh. I don’t really know, but at that time Fields Of The Nephilim was a huge influence on us. Like atmosphere-wise, and of course we had the Death Metal DNA already inhaled in ourselves, while touring with those bands and stuff. Plus also the personal curiousity of making things interesting in looking left and right along the usual path of writing a metal song.
Did the music contain elements of straight Death Metal, Doom Metal with sparing synths and a slight theatrical feel, which may attribute to the band’s notable love for the movie Lord of the Rings?
It’s a combination of all those things you mentioned. I remember also listening to a lot of Gutter Ballet from Savatage, and I really loved the theatrical terms of them. Also with the mystique of LOR and my interest in psychological themes and of course bands that influences us at that time like the aforementioned Fields Of The Nephilim, Trouble, but also the bands we toured with like Obituary and Autopsy. Plus Harry Busse is a very talented guy if it comes to finding catchy melodies, as he was educated with piano since he was a small kid.
Do you think that Morgoth have honed both their playing skills but also their songwriting skills on Cursed, compared to the music on both EPs or would it perfect on the defining musical elements of them?
For sure we were better musicians as of the begining in 1987, but especially the songwriting got more structured, and also the freedom of not having to do the vocal duties brought some other ideas in finding interesting vocal lines.
As for me, Female Infanticide is among the best 10 Death Metal songs of all time, probably my favourite tune from Morgoth. Resurrection Absurd contains your angry screeching, The Eternal Fall has a mysterious, haunting atmosphere that comes from the frequent use of various vocal effects and multi-layered guitar riffs; both aspects are combined together on Cursed to form one complete Death Metal record. Do you agree with it?
Very well said! I think RA even has some punk influences here and there, but all in all I think you brought it right to the point with that!
Did Cursed favor the more mid-paced style of Death Metal rather than the overly fast-paced, aggressive style and the album is more dark and creepy than it is aggressive?
Yes, for sure. We wanted to get the intensity of being more creepy, various and atmospheric, then just to reduce speed.
Was Cursed an elite release from the early 90’s, with every single song being epic and also working perfectly in its entirety?
Back then, we probably didn’t know, but looking on it now, I would agree this album is a DM classic of so many that came out the same year. 1991 was definitely a magic year for DM.
The album contains well written old school Death Metal tracks and each one is more memorable and different from the others. Is the album atmospheric, heavy, fast/mid paced, intense, doomy in its melencholy and has excellent moments of melody that colour and enhance the brutality and speed?
Yes, I think the variation of the song structures combined with the gloomy atmosphere and the catchiness of the songs makes it special.
Would you say, you were chasing atmosphere and decided not to play fast, but rather slow things down to get a different sound?
Yes, that was definitely the intention and I think we did quite well.
The lyrical content is very self reflective and quite pessimistic, the lyrics weren’t about gore, bowels and stereotypical death metal topics/clichés, but about negative consequences of someone’s murderous actions, self conscious philosophical depiction of our own guilt etc. Isolated being personal, Opportunity Is Gone being despondent. How do you explain this?
Well, as I mentioned before I was really interested in psychological things and connections at that time (and I still am), also with questioning yourself how your life with 20 will go on. In what direction, with which attitude I would go on with my life. Sometimes I wonder about myself how my mindset was able to write those lyrics at this young age.
Did you try to express your thoughts as varied as it’s possible?
Well, yes. It was also a catharsis to get thoughts and impressions out of my head.
Was Cursed a production of its time and it represents state of the art Dath Metal of 1991?
Yes, definitely. I was listening to the album in preparation to this interview. I haven’t listened to Cursed in whole for a couple of years actually and I still think it’s a great album, with a special atmosphere and a production/mix that still fits and suits the songs, even after 30 years!
Do you think that Cursed went on to become quite succesful, which was also helped on the way by promotional videos for the songs Isolated and Sold Baptism?
Yes, for sure. Back then those videos were all kind of DIY instead of having a big production company doing it. Some of the shots from Sold Baptism were done in the school sports hall where my dad was a teacher and we had the opportunity to shoot songs there instead of renting a studio. All the other shots were taken in our homecountry Sauerland. The graveyeard and all that. It’s a piece of home and our history. Yeah, definitely helped that Headbangers Ball and especially Vanessa Warwick liked us in a way and played the videos quite often.
Is the production/sound detailed and powerful and Cursed always stood out soundwise because it didn’t have one of the times’ typical Sunlight or Morrisound Studios productions?
Yes, it was quite different from all the other productions back then. I think it was maybe a risk to do that back then, but in the end it paid off, I guess.
In your opinion, is European Death Metal as a whole emotionally richer than American Death Metal?
Back then I would agree. The American bands were definitely the more professional and probably also better musicians, but the European ones had more soul and emotion. Definitely.
What were the shows/tours in support of the record? Can you tell us any details about them?
Oh, we had fantastic tours for that album. The most mentionable would be the US tour with Kreator and the European headliner tour together with Massacre and Immolation. Both were just amazing!!
How do you view that Morgoth finally threw in the towel?
Well, the split was not very nice. It was sad to see that people you know for over 30 years took that decision to kick me out of the band that I once co-founded with one of them. Well, I knew it would sooner or later happen, that they throw in the towel. It wasn’t just the same anymore. Very sad to see that the band that once had united us also divided us later and that the ending of this band is kind of sad.
Unfortunately Carsten Otterbach passed away in 2018. How do you want him to be remembered?
He definitely was a big part of Morgoth in the early years, he was the one who directed the business side of the band, which he did absolutely great until his departure from the band. And most important he was a friend!
Marc, thanks a lot for your answers! Anything to add to the interview?
Thanx for the interview! Stay healthy and hopefully we’ll see each other when I am able to play shows again.