Matthew Greywolf: “’It is not about finding the answers. It is all about the fascination of the unsolved. Take the beast of Gévaudan as example. They never caught that mysterious animal. That is the legend. The mystery has to live on, that’s the essence”
Hoog tijd om wat feest te vieren nu de zomer in het land is! Dat is precies wat de heren van Powerwolf voor ogen hadden toen ze zich afzonderden in de studio om dit achtste hoofdstuk te schrijven van de zeer succesvolle Powerwolf saga. De titel ‘Call Of The Wild’ nodigt ons uit om een vrolijke metal ceremonie bij te wonen en alle remmen los te gooien op de tonen van dit nieuwe album. We hadden een lang en hartelijk gesprek met opperwolf Matthew Greywolf over de totstandkoming van dit album, de teksten en de uitdagingen die daar ditmaal mee gepaard gingen.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 8 juli 2021
The previous album ‘The Sacrament Of Sin’ was released exactly three years ago. These were different times. Can you summarize what happened with Powerwolf since that time?
Well, basically a lot of touring I would say. We played more than twice as much shows than we did for the previous album. We played at places we had never been before, expanded our European tour quite a lot, playing much of shows in France, England, Romania, Greece, Russia, South America. We have been quite busy touring until we started writing the new album and until the pandemic situation came in.
Did you already start writing new material before the covid-19 crisis?
Yes I had started writing in late 2019 already, but I would say the main song-writing part was done during the first half year of the pandemic, which – seen from my point of view as main song-writer – gave me also a little bit of freedom, having the time. Usually I am the one to tell the guys that we should stop touring and make an album, this time it was obvious. We could not tour and we could only focus on writing the album. On the other hand it was not expected that it took the whole year. We were pretty happy that we had this project, where we could even sometimes escape the real life situation and work on the album. It was really a motivating process. You could say we were in a good luck situation within a bad luck situation. I mean, I really felt sorry for those who had just released an album and could not play one show for the album, because the pandemic came in. So here we are.
That is nice to hear, because I see you were touring with Amon Amarth in South America in the Spring of 2020…
Yes, we had to cancel three shows and take the train and last flight to Mexico and back. It was also planned to begin with song-writing at this time, but we made it to come back and then we really focused on writing new songs and escape from the situation. It was now or never.
In Germany and Belgium Powerwolf smoothly got more famous soon, but the Dutch audience is known for being quite difficult to conquer. Did you experience something like that?
No. We always had a good time in the Netherlands. We always felt it was a dedicated audience. In recent years we played more shows in the Netherlands. The first years we maybe played two little shows in the Netherlands, but in recent years we actually went more frequently to the Netherlands and we always had a great time there. The last show we played in 013 in Tilburg for example, was such an amazing celebration. An amazing time! Yes, for us the Netherlands have always been very welcoming and we love playing there. Especially when having a Dutch guy in the band (Roel van Helden – drums – Vera), he is particularly happy when we play there. It is always pretty special and we love it.
First thing that leaps to the eye is the title ‘Call Of The Wild’. What does it stand for?
The title can be interpret as a fact that we are really wild on stage, in song writing and recording and on the other hand you have our audience which can be very loud and wild. If you have attended a show, you really see that. Writing this album was, not a wake up call, but the call of the wild. We are back. That is what we want to say. In the end everybody needs music and I guess that our fans also expect new songs. We are super happy with it. On the other hand the title also refers to some of the lyrics on the album which are more than ever into storytelling. It is all about telling stories of wild creatures, legendary creatures. There are songs on the album like ‘Beast Of Gévaudan’, ‘Varcolac’ and ‘Blood For Blood’ who actually tell stories of wilderness in a wider scale and that suits the title also very well. It is our first album title – since the debut ‘Return In Bloodred’ – without any direct reference to religion. This one is a bit more focused on mythology and legends. Still within the lyrics there are many hints to religion.
What is the beast of Gévaudan?
Well, it is a legend about a legendary beast that killed up to a hundred people in the late 18th century in the South of France, in the region of Gévaudan. The interesting thing is that this beast was never found. So nobody knew what exactly the beast was. There has been evidence that it would actually be a very large wolf, but it was never caught. So there is plenty of legends and mythology around this beast. One of them is that the clerics of the region said that the killings and the beast were the revenge of God, which was a very interesting interpretation for Powerwolf, to write some lyrics about obviously. I stumbled upon this story already ten years ago and I always wanted to write a song about it, because it was such a perfect match for Powerwolf, but never got the right idea to actually do this, musically tell the story. This time I found the right melody and thought I could realize this. I am truly very proud of this song, because it has this very wild and energetic approach and to me it perfectly tells the story of this legend.
We also have a link with Romania again, the song ‘Varcolac’. Is it about the Romanian folklore?
Yes, Varcolac is a creature of Romanian mythology which could be translated as the king of werewolves or the werewolf god so to say; at least a very mighty creature. Something is pretty interesting about the conception of the varcolac. There is the belief that he could swallow the moon and the sun and that is actually the very same as the Nordic Fenrir. It is very interesting to compare this and see if there is a connection between both. There is the Nordic tale and there is the Romanian tale. Did they meet? Do they just tell the same story or is it like coincidence? These are the kind of things that are very fascinating to me. We really like reading, even if not thinking about Powerwolf songs. We are just interested in this kind of stuff and every now and then you stumble across stories that feel like fitting for a Powerwolf song.
And did you find any answers in this investigation?
It is not about finding the answers, it is all about the fascination of the unsolved. Take the beast of Gévaudan as example. They never caught that mysterious animal. That is the legend. If they caught it, you can only say: okay, it is a very large wolf. The mystery has to live on, that’s the essence.
Then we go to Ireland, because there is a kind of werewolf in ‘Blood For Blood (Faoladh)’…
Indeed, that is the third of these legends. Old Irish is a very strange language, nobody can really pronounce that name. What is interesting about this creature and the legend, is that in most of the fables or legends there is the dangerous monster and the killer, but in these Irish stories, the werewolf is seen as a guiding spirit for the children and the mother, which is very interesting to me, because it tells a more complex approach to these kind of creatures. That was actually something so extraordinary to me, I felt that I should really write something about that. I mean, there is not only black and white. There is no evil creature versus good creature. There’s like shades of everything. This led to one of the – also musically – outstanding songs on the album. Reading these Irish stories, I already had in mind some Celtic or Irish instrumentation, like the uilleann pipes or the hurdy-gurdy and all that stuff. Actually when we started writing this song, it was basically a folk song, so to say. It was written on an acoustic guitar with the idea to have some bagpipes and stuff in and we added the so called heavy metal instrumentation at a very late point in time. It was a very interesting creative process.
Recording an album is different these times, but you worked with Jens Bogren again for mix and mastering, isn’t it?
Yes, we had to adapt our plans a little bit. Originally it was planned to record and mix the album in Sweden with Jens, but due to the pandemic situation, we already decided last year that it would probably too much risky to fly to Sweden in winter, so we decided to record the album with Joost van den Broek in the Netherlands and had Jens in for the mix. That was actually a great team working on the album. We had worked with Joost in his studio in the Netherlands before on the ‘Best Of The Blessed’ album and we felt very comfortable there. Yes, in despite of the pandemic, we had a pretty good time during the recordings there. As earlier mentioned, it was not as easy as usual. Usually you don’t have to talk about travelling, it is easy, you can do it. This time it was very special. When I had to go to the Netherlands for the guitar recordings, I didn’t know two days before if I could cross the border or not. It was pretty much an adventure, but at the same time, it added this extra kind of attitude so to say, like ‘we don’t let the pandemic destroy our plans.’ More than ever, now we go to the studio! Every time when someone arrived at the studio, it was like ‘yeah great! We can go on with the recordings’. It gave some extra energy to everyone I would say.
Once again the album includes a power ballad ‘Alive Or Undead’. What can you tell about that song?
‘On the last album ‘The Sacrament Of Sin’ it was the first time we wrote a real ballad ‘Where The Wild Wolves Have Gone’. Back then, nobody knew how the song would be received by the fans or how it would work if we played it on stage, but as soon as we played it live, it instantly became a favourite of everybody. It turned into the emotional highlight of the show, people enjoyed it a lot. So it was very clear that one day we would write another ballad. But to be honest, when we started writing ‘Call Of The Wild’, I tried to avoid writing a ballad, because I felt I could only fail, writing a follow-up to such a good ballad. Then one day I stumbled upon this idea I wrote on a grand piano and I felt that it was way too good to not use it, just because we had a ballad on the last album. I played it for Attila and he is a very direct and honest person. He listened to it and he said: I insist that we do a song like that. So I had no choice (laughs). Attila can be really convincing if he wants to. What was most important to me, was that it had a distinct feeling. It did not feel like ‘Where The Wild Wolves Have Gone’ part II. It is another ballad, but one with a mood of its own. I am really happy that we went for it. We put it right in the very middle of the album, to have this kind of emotional break between very heavy songs.
One can hear many polyphonic chants and orchestration. Is that also something you worked out with Joost?
Yes, Joost is responsible for orchestration and choir arrangements. The thing is that this time we integrated his ideas about the orchestration at a very early stage of the song-writing already. Usually it is: we write the songs and if the songs are written for 80%, we put some orchestration and stuff on top. But sometimes this can just clash or make the song too busy. This time we wanted to have a sort of interaction between band ideas and orchestral elements. It was pretty interesting to see how orchestral ideas would influence the writing of the songs and vice versa. Joost was an additional member so to say over the course of one year. Since we also recorded the album with him, he was even more integrated in how we built up the songs. I have to say it was a very nice and creative process.
With a band who preaches celebration and having a party, it is even more essential to catch that spirit. Wasn’t that a point which was difficult this time, getting in the mood for such a celebration feeling while in the back of your head, you was the world collapse?
Yes, definitely. I must admit there have been days when it actually worked for me, when I was grateful to escape reality so to say and just go to the studio and be in the Powerwolf world where there is no pandemic. But then again, there were also days when, in the morning you read the news and you feel it is impossible to write music today, because you felt so sad or worried. It was very different. It was not always easy.
We are all humans and if something happens on a worldwide scale, you are affected anyways whether you want it or not…
Definitely. What we consciously wanted to avoid was that the situation would actually influence the way that we work on the album. We just denied that. We said: refuse the pandemic to have any kind of impact on the album. I have to say we are very proud that we achieved that. There was not the slightest compromise on the album. We did a lot of pretty insane stuff to get it done, for example when we recorded the choirs, we were not allowed to put twenty people of a choir in the studio. What we did… instead of recording a full choir for two days, we recorded groups of four people, each of them standing in one corner of the room and recorded them for eight to ten days, until we had enough singers recorded for a choir. It took actually a lot of extra effort to get everything done, but in the end I am double as proud of the result, because everybody gave 120% to get this done even though the circumstances were tough.
I think it is always appropriate for you to do a song in your vernacular language, in German. This time we have ‘Glaubenskraft’. That sounds very serene and religious. Can you tell more about this song and the choice for this title?
First of all the choice for the title and basically for the language, in German it is a very strong word. If you translate it, you get ‘the power of faith’ and that sounded much weaker (chuckles). Sometimes it is just time for a change and use the German language. This song is different – apart from the fact that it is written in German – lyrically it is very different as well and that is for the first time in the history of Powerwolf. I really felt the need to have critical lyrics about a very serious matter. The lyrics – to be very precise – are about recent cases of the abuse within the church ranks. Actually it is not the cases of abuse themselves I related to in the lyrics, but it was actually the fact – I was very, very shocked when I had to find out – that the investigations of these cases are left to the church themselves. The church law is above constitutional law. There is no police investigating for these kinds of abuse. It is up to the churches themselves to decide whether to investigate or not. We are not in the Middle Ages anymore, we are in 2021! I was very shocked when I found out about that. So for the first time I felt like being an artist, sometimes you have to put the finger on things. This time I was pretty speechless, so I thought the only thing I could do about it is write some lyrics. The way I wrote it, is a very cynical kind of lyrics, it is a very dark, cynical choice of the words and the story. With all of the Powerwolf songs, there is some philosophy behind, but you don’t need to see it that way. You might as well enjoy the song, without going deeper, but… the message behind it is a very serious matter. But I would not call it a religious matter, because to me this is a social question. This is a question of justice, not of religion at all. The fact that people use their power to get away with something, this can happen in many different contexts. It is pretty much a social critic.
Another title that sounds intriguing to me is ‘Sermon Of Swords’. A sermon is a kind of religious speech; but swords? What do you mean by that? What is it inspired by?
It is actually inspired by two different things. Not really inspired, but it is about a council of Clermont, which was a gathering of clericals in the late tenth century, which was so to say the kick off meeting for the first crusade. It was like a sermon where, back then, the pope at that time, justified the first crusade and sent the crusaders out to fight. And on the other side there is one very interesting Bible quote, where Jesus is quoted and said: ‘I did not come to bring peace, I came to bring the sword.’ However the interpretation is not like he wanted to bring war, not at all. The interpretation is: if you stand in for some sort of believe you have – be it religious or whatever – you better accept that it brings discussions. A strong meaning can divide opinions of people. If you have a strong message, you do not come to bring peace, because then everybody is just happy, but there is no impact. If you have a strong message and you made your point, it will maybe bring discussion. I found this a very interesting Bible quote. So both are related to ‘Sermon Of Swords’.
Interesting. Now you make me curious about ‘Reverent Of Rats’!
(laughs) That is a bit of a funny thing. First of all, it is a very image provoking thing, for example you can see a reverend with a church full of rats or something, which is a funny kind of thing, but there is some different kind of layer to it, which is related to how the concept of a higher entity of god was seen in the late 19th century. Philosophers like for example Ludwig Feuerbach came up with the theory that the higher entity of god is nothing else than the projection of human ideal. God as the ideal human being, so to say. There is an essay written about it and it is actually really nice. It was written for teenagers, but I thought it was very strong, because they said: ‘okay if god is the projection of an ideal man, what do animals think?’ Does a cat think of god as a cat? Does a rat think that god is a rat? That is actually where I put this little link with the reverent of rats. Where does this concept of ideal come from? That is the deeper meaning of the title to me. But once again, it is like with every Powerwolf song. You do not really have to think about that and possibly just be entertained by ‘Reverent Of Rats’. There are two layers to it.
In the Bible you can also read that man was made as a copy of god… in the story of creation…
These kinds of things are stuff that I read a lot about. I am interested in it, I can dive into it for hours. That’s where we get a lot of inspiration from.
The funniest title this time is ‘Undress To Confess’…
Yes, and there is a good reason for that. For me it was important, when I had written ‘Glaubenskraft’, a very serious matter, I needed something joyful for a balance. We are entertainers; not social critics. So I thought the album needed some sort of tongue-in-cheek humoristic kind of thing to make the point very clear that we don’t have any political or religious message, but we are entertainers. It is just a funny story, but it is important for me that we make it clear: this is entertainment.
I think it is also strong that you kick off with the energetic track ‘Faster Than The Flame’. Did you do that on purpose?
Definitely. There is a tradition in the Powerwolf opener and for me it is important that the opening songs for Powerwolf albums are 100% typical Powerwolf, which ‘Faster Than The Flame’ is. It is a song in the tradition of ‘Fire & Forgive’ or ‘Amen & Attack’. Even musically pretty close to it and the meaning or the intention is – how can I say? – to put it straight to the listener: ‘this is Powerwolf. It has been a long time since the last album, but here we are again. If you don’t remember, this is how we sound. Now let us go on an exiting journey together.’ It is like reintroducing the band, it is what the opening song should do. Now you are back in the world of Powerwolf and this is what it is about. That is why our openers usually are very typical songs.
Are there still other new elements I might have missed as innocent bystander?
We did another thing that we never did before, which is not that obvious. In ‘Dancing With The Dead’. We used something like synthesizers. To me it sounds a bit like the ‘Somewhere In Time’ album from Iron Maiden. It is great to experiment with those kinds of things, it puts a different view on keyboards or synthesizers. For me personally it is something I enjoyed a lot, because for me it is one of the most influential albums of all times. To me it has a ‘Wasted Years’ kind of vibe. It was a song that also had a bit experimental feel to me. In the end it became a very typical song, probably at first it was not obvious that there was something different, but there is. It was fun to melt the synthesizers with the guitars. It gives that very special atmosphere.
To round off I would like to have a little impression of your prospects for the Wolfnächte tour. Now it is scheduled for October 2021. Who is coming with you on this tour and I notice these are bigger venues than before?
Indeed it is. These are pretty large venues and of course this is a super great development for which we are really grateful. We are really looking forward to that. Bigger venues mean that we can also have a bigger stage production and continue developing the show which is very nice. Everybody who has seen us live, knows that we enjoy this quite a lot, delivering all these special visual elements and everything. We are really looking forward to this tour. As we speak we will start preparing the tour and preparing the stage production. As of now of course nobody exactly knows if in October there will be shows happening the way we were used to, but nevertheless, what you have to do as band is to be ready for it. And that’s what we are going to do and we really hope it is going to work and happen. Everybody is longing to come back and enjoy this again.