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Brainstorm's Torsten Ihlenfeld: "…with every skull a story is told, a war lost, a war won, a hero is born, a hero dies, a man lost, a friend won…"

Interview with Torsten Ihlenfeld from Brainstorm
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 29 September 2021, 11:18 PM

Being constant because it is fun, being together as one because there are partners for the long haul, those that their energy levels as if never to be depleted. The German Heavy / Power Metal band Brainstorm are like a train that never stops, always creating, always on demand, bringing out the best of themselves with both crushing heaviness and hooking power moments that would stand the test of time. Recently coming out with their new "Wall Of Skulls", via AFM Records, Steinmetal had a chance to catch long time guitarist Torsten Ihlenfeld about the new album, the experience, the continued motivation and more…

Hello Torsten, it is quite the honor to have you for this conversation for Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been doing kind sir?

I am doing fine, thanks for asking. Strange times though we are all living in.

It has been quite the period of time we have been having worldwide with this awful pandemic. When it comes to the live music scene, surely a lot of people took a hit, some never will recover and others slow and easy. How did you cope mentally with situations such as lockdowns, which were quite common earlier on? What kept you going?

Music kept me going. Being able to create music, the love of making music. As we had almost completed our touring run for the previous album “Midnight Ghost“ by end of 2019, we concentrated and focused 100% on the songwriting for “Wall of Skulls”, which helped a lot. And nowadays, being able to create and record music whenever and wherever, this left us in quite a good situation, compared to many of our colleagues.

In your perspective, what do you think of the new normal? For example, the festivals that were held this year, the bigger ones I mean, such as Bloodstock in the UK and Alcatrazz in Belgium. Do you believe these were a necessity for people to feel alive or rather lack of responsibility?

Definitely the necessity for people to feel alive. People are hungry for real live music, meeting other people, fans that like the same kind of music, have good talks face to face, some beers, feel that there is still that great metal community out there. We will see what will be the new normal but those events showed that live music is still – or better again – possible. Especially looking at the UK or Denmark – both countries have already had their “freedom day”.

Heading to Brainstorm, the band continues its clockwork material release and after the impressive “Midnight Ghost”, there was certainly something to expect. After a few blinks and there I was, listening continuously to your new “Wall Of Skulls”, also released via AFM Records. With the album up and about, what have been the reactions towards it? How was it accepted?

Reactions are absolutely stunning, amazing, unbelievable, … especially over here in Europe, we had several “album of the month” results in print and online media, top rankings in the soundcheck, high scores in the reviews – and top news, our highest chart entry in Germany at #12 of the Top 100 official German longplay charts. Absolutely amazing!

Other than its music, which we will discuss later on, I have to say that “Wall Of Skulls” felt personal, highly emotional, attempting to take the listener into a journey that was already taken or perhaps ventures that others might have taken considering difficult situations in life. What can you share about the path of the record lyrically?

Yes, absolutely. We are always trying to leave some space/room for own interpretations so our listeners can dive deep into the stories and make their own visual storyboard while listening to our music.

In general, our “Wall of Skulls” can be so much more, … with every skull a story is told, a war is lost, a war won, a hero born, a hero dies, a man lost, a friend won, skulls can be symbols of mankind's cruelties but also signs of hope for some cultures. Undertakers & lifesafers and so on.

Would you say that “Wall Of Skulls” has relations to the pandemic as a sort of inspiration or is it rather a form of escapism into a different world, free of the virus and in focus on things that might mean more to others?

Both, the pandemic showed and still shows us how volatile and fragile the worldwide system is, how - all of a sudden - literally, a virus can take over all of our daily lives and decisions, how suddenly a life can end, but on the other side, how even more important it is not to lose hope and keep on going. In our case, keep on making music.

I must ask about the artwork. It is simply stunning. When it comes to its concept, is it the continuance of “Midnight Ghost” by any chance? What do you make of it?

Yes, it turned out absolutely amazing, but no, Wall of Skulls totally stands for its own. New stories, new songs, new chapter. Brainstorm album number 13. Midnight Ghost had a more personal view on the stories, like own childhood nightmares and fears and so on, Wall of Skulls has a more global approach.

I have been following Brainstorm ever since the band’s debut, which opened for me a kind of Power Metal that is more aggressive. Over the years you became also melodic, driving a blade to one’s heart with emotive features, striving towards being larger than life. “Wall Of Skulls” is perhaps the playground where you took your past and present efforts into the most powerful mix to date. How do you relate to that? Is this album the ultimate example of you trying to reach out to as many souls as possible?

Yes, somehow. Wall of Skulls for sure takes our fans on a journey from the early years until nowadays, but not in a retrospective, all with the sound and songwriting skills of Brainstorm 2021!

We had the chance to focus on every song to an absolute maximum and also the time to reflect on each song, which was (one of the few) positive side-effects of the pandemic. Nothing happened except writing new songs so to say and it helped us to focus on the real important parts of each song, without jamming too much and putting too much different song parts into the new songs. We tried to write the most powerful, but still melodic, songs and the result can be heard on Wall of Skulls.

As I mentioned previously, aggressive form of music, which isn’t extreme, but naturally dependent on energetic tempos and heavy weight riffs, has always been a part of Brainstorm. Nonetheless, “Wall Of Skulls” surely shows as if a swift return to your first albums, putting the pedal to the Metal. Even if it is a natural process, there is always that trigger that happens while the songwriting process. What was that trigger that led you to these destructive assaults?

Hard to say, as we do not rehearse and say today we need to write a fast song, or something like that. But for sure we had quite a good appetite for fast songs this time. And so, one riff lead to another, one idea was followed by the next and an of a sudden, we had a bunch of cool songs ideas that have been worth going deeper into those songs.

You have been one of the two riffers of the band, alongside your longtime partner, Milan Loncaric. From your perspective, what has differentiated your work on the album’s riffs in contrast to your previous works?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. We both know each other so long, we meet either at my house or Milan’s or we meet at the rehearsals and we love creating music together, writing songs and pushing each other to the max.

In relation to the previous question, as a songwriter and musician, how do you feel that “Wall Of Skulls” developed your skills on both counts? I know that you always learn new things on a daily basis

Yes, you always learn something new with every album you make. And you should never be too old to be willing to learn something new or listen to how others are writing songs. I still study music theory and songwriting skills and meet with other songwriters to jam and exchange ideas, techniques and so on. Very inspiring meetings always.

When it comes to challenges while making and writing the record, how would you say that Brainstorm outlasted those obstacles on the “Wall Of Skulls” sessions?

No obstacles at all. We love making music, creating music, writing songs and we usually have more ideas that we would need for one album, just because of that fact. And we never had.

The band’s lineup has been solid for quite some time, even so, how would you say that the work on “Wall Of Skulls” contributed to your chemistry as a group? How can you describe some of the sessions that you worked on the album?

Quite simple. We are more than just musicians making music. We are also friends in real life and know each other very well. And when it comes to songwriting, everyone knows its place.

Milan and me bring the basic song ideas to the rehearsals, where we arrange the basic song instrumentally. After that, I go to Andy and we are going into the details before Andy works on vocal lines and lyric ideas. Then Andy and me meet again, diving deeper into the arrangements, make necessary changes, before I bring the songs back to the guys in the rehearsing room and prepare the pre-production recordings. Of course this can go back and forth quite sometimes but it works perfectly for us.

A sort of an out of sync question. I have to know, with you being a veteran musician, running with Brainstorm for three decades, what still motivates you to keep pushing forward?

We love what we do and we are very thankful that we can still live the dream of making music since 30 years now, or at least almost 25 years since the first CD “Hungry” was released back in 1997!

Talking about the songs, as an addicted aggressive on speeds, I was captivated by “Escape The Silence”. Such a catchy note for the books, could be a coming classic, delivering a fist to the face as the old school spirit ordered, yet not forgetting that there is a bleeding heart bludgeoning. What can you tell about the track’s creation process? What emotions did it generate while working on it?

The riff caught us immediately as well and the more we worked on the song, the clearer it was that this will be one of the singles for Wall of Skulls.

 “Wall Of Skulls” sure has it when it comes to Metal hymns that can serve as sing-alongs, and “Solitude” is one of those jewels. Frankly, I learned the chorus by heart after two listening sessions. This is some achievement. What is your appreciation of this track? How do you find this version of your songwriting that is catchier, or I might add marketable, oriented?

“Solitude” went through quite some reincarnations during the songwriting process and actually was the first song we have started to write on for Wall of Skulls and was one of the last songs that we finished for Wall of Skulls. But it definitely turned out great and was worth all the work. We had different choruses, different verses, even different riffs and middle parts and at the end of the day, only a small part in the middle of the song was still in finally from the first version we played.

When you sit down by yourself, putting on the headphones and listening to “Wall Of Skulls”, what does it make you feel? Does it make you remember the past or rather gaze at a possible future?

Both, but first of all, I feel very proud of what we achieved with Wall of Skulls and our music in general. Still being there with 13 albums in the discography and still going strong feels absolutely amazing!

I noticed that you postponed your upcoming your, probably to 2022. I guess that you aren’t taking too many chances? What do you expect from 2022?

We will tour in 2022. That’s for sure! The tour planned for now in 2021 simply was not possible due to the different regulations in the different countries, even different within certain parts of the countries. The original dates will be rescheduled and even more dates are worked on meanwhile.

Torsten, I wish to thank you for your time and effort for this conversation. It was fortunate for me to listen to the new record, it had a number on me as well hehe. All the best

Thank you as well!


 



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