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After 5 years, and a return to the original founding duo line-up, German band A Sickness Unto Death have just released their fourth album. Comrade Aleks talks to them about this latest work and how the last few years have been.

Interview with A Sickness Unto Death.
"Saxonian Doom metal act A Sickness unto Death passed its first decade in 2022, having three full-length albums in their catalogue. Their material was always distinctive with its clean guitar harmonies, emotional vocals and the very human feeling that filled all three albums. Their specific sound sets the band apart from the traditional Doom scene, making each of their albums unique in their own way. The band honed its features through ‘Despair’ (2013), ‘The Great Escape’ (2015) and ‘Beyond’ (2018), and the new album ‘Poles’ has begun a new chapter in the band’s history. Founders Michael Maas and Tim Ziegeler tell the story behind ‘Poles’. "

A Sickness unto Death: Tim Ziegeler (vocals) and Michael Maas (all instruments).

Hi gents! How are you doing? Let me congratulate you on the release of the fourth A Sickness unto Death album ’Poles’! Are you satisfied with the release schedule?

Tim: Hi Aleks. Yes we’re super stoked now that the album is finally ready for release and the first reactions have been very positive.

Your previous album ’Beyond was released in 2018, and usually the breaks between releases were shorter. Let me guess… Pandemic and lineup changes did it this time?

Tim: Thanks for offering us this very convenient excuse. But we had other issues. Beyond was kind of a special album with edgy songs and crazy beats. After the release we needed time to refocus. To be honest, the songwriting for Poles had already been finished two years ago, but shortly before the finish line, we dawdled a bit.

Don’t you feel an ardor to reach more with the band? Ambitions, you know?

Tim: Everyone dreams of bringing your band to the next level, increasing sales, playing bigger shows or festivals. It’s not the quality of the music that decides, but the question of what sacrifices you want to make. To be honest: to become a big band, you have to make music a very high priority in your life. And even though we live in a completely digital world: The only way to bring a band forward is to play as many live shows as possible.

We can’t do that for various reasons and I’m cool with that. Our ambitions are focused on the music itself. And I don’t think our music would be better if we played 120 shows every year and were signed to a major label. It takes a while for your ego to accept that, but after that, being part of the underground is actually quite good!

As far as I remember, there was a period when A Sickness unto Death performed as a five-piece band. And now the band has become a duo. How did that happen?

Michael: We started as a duo and recorded the first album like this. Afterwards, we wanted to do the full band thing, which worked well for a few years around the time of our second album. But we actually prefer to focus on songwriting and recording and not so much on rehearsing. I think this focus can be heard on Beyond and Poles. We would like to play live again at some point, let’s see what we can do!

How did you manage to record such a remarkable album with only two of you in the studio?

Michael: Actually, we didn’t even meet in the studio this time. When I write songs, I usually start with laying down the guitar riffs or a hookline, a beat or some other starting point. Then I program a sketch of the drums and record all other instruments. Tim then adds the vocals from his home studio. Almost everything is rerecorded again after drum tracking. At the very end, Tim adds some sound collages, synths or effects. Mixing and mastering is also done by me at Refuge Studio.

Didn’t you miss the aesthetic of recording everything together in the studio?

Michael: Sure, that can be nice. However, I don’t think this is a reality for most bands, especially metal bands. Most bands focus on (pre)production in their home studios and only the biggest bands can afford to book time in big recording studios. And the quality difference might not even be worth it…

How did you find Norman Lonhard? Was it easy to build a collaboration with him during the recording?

Tim: We first asked the drummers we’re already recorded with, but they were busy. I asked some of my friends from the band scene in Germany and one of him knew Norman from other projects. He connected us and Norman was in.

Michael: I think Norman’s contribution cannot be overstated! He performed and recorded the drums at his one studio in South Germany. The drumsound (especially the snare) is the foundation of a punchy metal production!

It’s said that you tried to reinvent the band in composing Poles, how would you measure your success in this endeavour?

Tim: It’s hard to tell. Just when you think you found your unique sound, creativity kicks in and drives you in another direction. I noticed that we focused on the essentials in the songwriting process. Less discussions about details. And though we had less discussions, I also felt we made less compromises at the same time, so the album feels very authentic and real to me. Writing our first songs in German language was also part of the reinvention.

Did you have some examples before you? The bands which were your guiding light or something?

Tim: No, we don’t wanna to sound like anyone else. I guess it’s part of our uniqueness to have many influences from other genres. I like the sad vibes of slow Trip-Hop music and try to transform them into our own sound. As far as the German lyrics are concerned, there are a few bands whose style I like because it is “in your face” without becoming cheesy. “Element of Crime” and Fjørt come to mind spontaneously. Neither of them are metal bands...

The album sounds different indeed. It’s more complex, more diverse and more innovative than ’Beyond’. But also, some songs demonstrate more effective songwriting. How long did you work on this new formula?

Michael: I don’t think we have a special formula for song writing. Some of the songs have the standard ABABCB structure that you find in a lot of other songs, as well, some are more based on a single theme that is intensified throughout the song (or two back-to-back like in “Angezählt”). But after experimenting a lot on Beyond, I think the key to writing Poles was to forget about not trying to repeat ourselves. To accept that it is fine to write just another riff-based doomy song with down-tuned guitars, a wailing lead guitar etc. Of course, our own musical preferences are so varied that a lot of unorthodox ideas always sneak in.

And what are the main elements of this new formula?

Tim: There are some ingredients that contribute to the new ASUD songs. The drums are probably the best you’ve ever heard on our albums. Then we have German lyrics in some songs and it’s also the first time you can hear a Dulcimer in our songs. It was played by Ian Arkley of My Silent Wake. We toured with these guys some years ago.

It’s also the first album without the philosopher’s voice, maybe it makes the songs more catchy.

Didn’t hear anything from My Silent Wake for a while… Do you stay in contact with some other bands as well? There are a few well-known names in German doom scene.

Tim: Yes, we stay in contact with bands we played with and also bands form our area. For example, our former bassist Leon Rubinstein started his own band Servants to the Tide and they released a superb epic doom metal debut album. It’s good to see there are still new doom bands coming up here and there.

Yes, I remember Servants to the Tide! We did a pretty good interview two years ago or so. However, themes of “alienation, division and polarization” leave their mark on your lyrics. How did you come to this concept? Which real events pushed you to speak out?

Tim: Of course the pandemic, the war in Europe and the upcoming social crises left their mark in our lyrics. But Poles tells its stories from a more observational perspective. The problem with these crises is that they require an immediate reaction from us. Even before we can assess the situation, we have to have an opinion and share it on social media. Poles is an attempt to take a breath and not be drawn to one side.

The lyrics are very clear on the one hand, but also have a mystical level. I believe that mysticism is a prerequisite to see things clearly and rationally, to ground ourselves. But it takes time and quietness, you don’t have that in a world full of poles.

“Angezählt” is one of the German songs and it deals with the manipulative power of numbers. Numbers can be like demons, tempting you with their seemingly reasonable justification for any behaviour, no matter how evil.

How comfortable is it for you to live in Germany nowadays? Do you have an opportunity to escape society not only by music but also physically?

Tim: I think it’s still comfortable to live in Germany even though we’re facing the same challenges like other European countries. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I live in a very rural area and like to go hiking in the woods. That’s part of my escapism. Also meditation can be part of a physical retreat. That’s what the song “Breathe” is about.

Michael: Music is more an outlet for me rather than an escape, especially our kind of music. For me, it’s more about balancing things, also different types of music.

The band celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2022, did you have a special show or something?

Michael: Just a quiet retrospective.

Has the situation with gigs changed for you in a positive way? How often did you perform your songs live after the pandemic?

Tim: The situation with concerts has become worse after the pandemic. Especially for small bands. We accept this fact. With busy jobs and families, going on tour for several weeks is no option for us anyway. So instead of playing half-assed live shows with hired musicians, we stay in our cave and focus on songwriting.

What are your further plans for the rest of 2023?

Tim: Of course, we will promote our new album and I’m looking forward to the reactions. And then I’m sure winter will bring some inspiration for the next album.

Michael: I am building a new studio in a converted garage. I am looking forward to the next level of recordings!

How much new equipment do you plan to fit there? Do you have anything which you badly wanted there like… a kind of dream as a songwriter and performer?

Michael: It’s more about the space itself. It’s slightly bigger and I can engineer the acoustics from the beginning. And it’s detached from the main house, so I don’t have to work with headphones if I don’t want to.

Okay, thank you for the interview gents! It was good to talk again. Do you have any more words for our readers?

Tim: Thanks for your support for more than 10 years now, make sure you check out our new album!

Michael: Likewise!

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Interviewed on 2023-12-18 by Comrade Aleks Evdokimov.
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