A talk with
Jan Christian Halfbrodt - Keyboards
Questionnaire by Patrick 'Sloof' De Sloover
Tales From Beyond’ is probably the best Mob Rules album and without doubt one of the best Power Metal albums in months, and while they add a little more aggression in their songs, they also succeed in a progressive touch. Their 8th. album can be considered as a milestone so far, so we definitely need to talk with this band about current things and what the future will bring!
Q: Before we start talking about the new, fantastic album, I would like to have a little retrospect about the history of the band. What were the highlights so far?
A: Hi Patrick! Wow, thank you for this introduction! It is hard to pick a certain highlight, but maybe our 20th anniversary, that we celebrated with the creation of “Timekeeper”, a box including a Best Of, a second full length CD with re-recordings of older songs together with musicians we learned to know and that became friends within the time Mob Rules exists and a DVD of our show in Atlanta, which was one of the most awesome experiences we ever had. This all togehter was a great retrospective to the things we did in the last 20 years and by doing it, it was like traveling back in time. It holds the whole spirit of this band and our story so far!
Q: Matthias Mineur (guitars) and Klaus Dirks (vocals) are the only remaining members of Mob Rules. Do they consider the band as their brainchild?
JCH: Of course they do, but the band grew and matured through the years and with every new member that came, it evoloved further. We do not have something like a bandleader who takes all decisions. But of course they are proud, because they prepared the way for all the things that came!
Q: What was the initial idea when the band was formed? I guess that they both were totally into the eponymous Black Sabbath album?
JCH: It was the typical story of some boys who wanted to found a band to play the music they love and try to get a deal with a record label! It had nothing to do with that certain album, but with making Metal and beeing a band. They have started in different local bands and then put it all together to create something bigger.
Q: Isn’t it a little odd, to name a band referring to a classic album. People might be confused as they all will expect a kind of Black Sabbath tribute band?
JCH: Well, if I say “Machine Head”, no one expects a Deep Purple tribute band, but before you say it, they are on a different level, I know. That might be our task, that this name is more associated with us than this album. By the way, the band did not get it’s name from it anyway! The story behind is: In the early days of the band, as a name was needed, a friend of the band entered the rehearsal room wearing a cap from “Lynch Mob”, that had the label “Lynch Mob Rules”. So this name was taken.
Q: The band started in 1994 in the Northern part of Germany in a town/city called Wilhelmshaven. It’s a place where bands like Desaster Area, Indolenz, Mental Killing Spree, Pumpkin Heads, Sonic Brew, Vike Tare, Fact and Fetocide resides. Not really German highlights… Was it hard to find the stable lineup in those days?
JCH: Wow, you are well prepared and know more bands than I! While I am the youngest member of Mob Rules, I cannot say so much about that time, because in 1994 I just turned 12. But I know most of the storys and I think the hardest thing was to get a feet inside the business! And this is today much more harder then in the 90s! There are so many good musicians out there, but most of them will always play in local bands even if they could make great records and reach a wide audience if they had the chance. Mob Rules found a well working lineup, a really great singer and in Matthias a guy, who knew how to talk to the important people. They also had musicians that had a feeling for songwriting, and of course this little peace of luck! That all together was maybe the secret.
Q: Do you agree that the sound of the band evolved through the years. Perhaps it’s by adding new members, but growing older can also add another point of view if you talk about great music. How would you describe the music of Mob Rules now compared with the early days?
JCH: Oh yes, it surely did! And I think it is a mix of both the things you mentioned! By growing older, there is a lot of experience we gained with different things we tried and every new member helped to keep the band young a brought new ideas and influences while every past member has left his legacy in the songs he was involved in. We never tried to change our style or sound different, but this just happend.
We added new elements like this celtic influence or became more progressive, but it all remained Mob Rules. Our sound today is a bit a blend of all we did before. The work on “Timekeeper” was very good for us, because dealing with the old material inspired us to take some steps back into this direction, while simoultanous we headed on with the kind of sound we started in “Cannibal Nation”.
Q: Is it like a natural process? Things change, the world is changing and musicians get better and better through the years? Do you believe that Mob Rules is currently at best?
JCH: Yes, it is a natural process and it is good to see! And for me, I think we are on a very good level at this time! I avoid the word “at best”, but I am very proud of what we created and think we are on the right way!
Q: I know that the band consider themselves as an undervalued act in Belgium and Holland, and for some reason I have to admit. Strange that this quality band isn’t mentioned as one of the top German acts in Progressive/Power metal. How comes, do you have any idea why Mob Rules is still a bit underrated?
JCH: One of the reasons we still exist after so many years is, that we always avoided to go further than everybody of us is able to in respect of each members private life, job, family and so on. It is no secret that it is very hard in this days to live from just making music, and our advantage is, that we don’t have to. On the other side, this means we where not able to play different tours every year. Than came a time when Power Metal wasn’t very popular anymore and it was even harder to reach a wider audience. But I feel the times have changed! We got so much support from our label this time, bands like “Powerwolf”, “Orden Ogan” or of course “Avanatasia” revived this genre and after our 20th anniversary box “Timekeeper” we suddenly got a lot of attention because the people realized we are still alive and part of the scene since that long time. Lets see what the future brings!
Q: Well, in general we do not agree with what other people think, as Mob Rules is a top notch German product who know very well how a good song is written, when an arrangement is ready to be spread and how a great album should sound. Perhaps there are too many bands that play that musical style and direction?
JCH: Hard to say! There are so many bands out there in all genres of Heavy Metal and of course I would be happy if we where invited more to play on bigger festivals. But as said before, something had changed and I the reactions we gained for “Tales From Beyond” since today are so overwhelming, that I really cannot complain!
Q: ‘Cannibal Nation’ was the previous real album of Mob Rules, but the band also released a compilation album named ‘Timekeeper’. This double album can also be considered as an album that delivers the songs anno 2014, exactly what I meant a few questions before. A band evolves, so what were the main differences between the original tracks and the ones that we can find on Timekeeper?
JCH: It is amazing how the voice of Klaus has changed during the years! It is like a good whisky, that gets more edgy and rich with every year! Our instrumental sound has grown much more powerfull as well. And of course not to forget: The guest singers and musicians that gave their special touch to every song! The duets with Amanda Somerville and Herbie Langhans from Avantasia or Udo Dierkschneider, the guys from Axxis and so on. We also rearranged some songs with the knowledge and experience of today, what was a good thing for them.
Q: Let’s take a look at the new album. What is meant by ‘Tales From Beyond’?
JCH: We did not plan to make a concept album, but wanted it to end with a trilogy that is picked by the artwork and the title of this album. We choose an abstract narration of the book “The Martian” by Andy Weir, a book that I really loved. This trilogy was called “A Tale From Beyond” and in the artwork you see this guy that kinda invites you to join him on a journey into the unknown. The other lyrics also deal with different storys of “tales” from books or historical persons. So we choose the name “Tales From Beyond” that covers this points in a good way together!
Q: I was really impressed about the lyrical themes on this album. It refers to the ancient history of the North, with references and ideas from writers like Theodor Storm and Florian Gerlach. I guess it’s not an easy task to write lyrics with thoughtful ideas?
JCH: Great to hear that you liked it! To be honest, they came just with the songs as they evolved. I usually need a kind of anchor that I can use to build the lyrics around. “The Rider On The White Horse” is a book that I really love and its story suits perfectly to a Power Metal song! When it came to find an idea for our planned trilogy, I presented some themes that we could use and this book was one of them. We choose “The Martian” because it better fit to the songs Sven already had prepared. But everybody was a bit sad to dismiss the story about the young dykemaster, because it takes place in our direct neighborhood. But then this epic song was in progress that got longer and longer and suddenly it was clear, that this is the right one for the story! The song “Somerled” had in early days the working title “Wardrums”, because Sven had this pictures in mind with an ancient Scottish army walking down the hills into battle (like we did in the intro later).
I read a lot in Scottish history to find a good story and discovered this guy called “Somerled” who is half Scottsman and half Viking and started to find out all about his life. The lyrics than came within several hours! The same with “Dust Of Vengeance”: We had this dark Speedmetal song and I though the whole day about a good theme. We usually record some nonsens-lyrics in pre-production and there was this “Whenever I walk a dark road, anger still walks by my side”. I thought this is pretty cool and wanted to keep it, but had no idea how to use it. I wanted to go for a shower and suddenly saw this book, that Florian Gerlach gave us a couple of weeks ago about his Smoggers, dark creatures of smoke that infiltrate human bodys and let them live out all their sinister thoughts. He asked us, if we want to use it as inspiration for a song, and in this moment it all again fit together! While showering, the refrain was finished and until the evening the complete song!
Q: Musical wise, I must refer to giants like Iron Maiden and Savatage but with an own twist in the arrangements. The timbre of Klaus sounds a bit like Bruce, but in my review, I stated that Klaus sounds much better. He’s got a wider range, which fits perfect to the songs of Mob Rules. Does it bother when people mention Iron Maiden, if they talk about Mob Rules?
JCH: Of definitely not! It is a great honor to be compared to a band like this and Klaus was very happy about your words as he read it! As long as we are compared to different bands, it is a good thing an means, we have found our place somewhere between them.
Q: Your own keyboard style of playing add a lot of atmosphere to the songs. It creates bombast and maturity without getting commercial. Many layers do discover, and luckily we are spoiled with outstanding guitar duels of Matthias and Sven Lüdke. Do you agree that the new material is a bit darker, a bit heavier as well?
JCH: Yes it is, and we wanted to sound like that! “Cannibal Nation” had a bit more Hard Rock style and was very melancholic in my opinion and we wanted to return to a more powefull sound. A good Power Metal album that rocks and with a lot to discover was the aim we had set to us.
Q: The band is going on tour with Axel Rudi Pell, another highlight in German music scene. Are you guys ready to take off?
JCH: Oh yes, we cannot wait to be on stage again! We have spent so much time in the studio, we really need to get on the road again and this is such a great chance to reach a lot of new people!
Q: About 17 days on the road, is perhaps a hard nut to crack. Is Mob Rules a band that prefers to bring their material live in front of an audience, or do you like to work in the studio as well?
JCH: It is the mix of both! But I think, Mob Rules is a band that is made for playing live and perform for their fans! We really love playing gigs and this is the reward for the time in the studio!
Q: What’s next? Any summer festival in the running or is it too early to spread the news?
JCH: No current plans at the moment, but I hope there will be some festivals and we will surely play some shows in fall 2016!
Q: The band will play in Belgium at Biebob club. It’s a really nice place where the vibe is always great! What can people expect? A best of or rather a focus on the new material?
JCH: We always try to play songs from every record we made, what gets harder after every new release! Prepare for 50 Minutes of a highly motivated bands that presents a mix of our latest output and of course our “classics”!
Q: Well, I do hope that you will have a lot of fun and success during the upcoming tour and we all wish you the best for the future! Any last words to proclaim?
JCH: I really want to thank you again for the awesome review and the great support! And to your readers: Keep on rocking, support your bands and maybe give “Tales From Beyond” a try! If you like it, lets meet at Biebob Club or any other gig and have a great party together! Cheers!
Sloof: Thank you for your time, and if we are able to get to the Biebob on April 9th. we might have a beer afterwards! Tshüs !