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Cambion's Thorben Rathje: "To burn down the safe place and face the reality of the hell before you…"

Interview with Thorben Rathje from Cambion
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 21 March 2021, 11:00 PM

Taking it up to the next level and not letting go, to go above and beyond, and there you have the technical stuff that has been right there but without too much notice. Thorben Rathje, the guitarist, and awesome shredder, of Cambion unraveled the story of their new album “Conflagrate The Celestial Refugium” and even gave a few explanations about the new prospect. Cambion is about to set off with its new release and it was the right time to ask the questions, some of them are harder than others. Steinmetal had a great conversation with Thorben Rathje about the new album, what is holds and how did it shape the band.

Hello Thorben, it is great to have you for this conversation for Metal Temple online Magazine, how has life been treating you lately?

Thorben: Great to be here, Lior. It’s an honor. Currently trying to make the best out of the situation. Keeping clear and grinding away sick tunes. Oh, and Rich Osmond is also going to comment a few things here.

The recent pandemic has been quite major in the US, and even escalated with its impact in the last six months. However, things have begun to change, the awareness of the people, and of course the vaccinations. Do you feel that a relief is coming? Is the way out closer than you think?

Thorben: I sincerely hope that this shit is soon a thing of the past. I agree that relief seems on the horizon and hopefully with the vaccinations taking effect, this vicious bitch of a virus can be contained.

Culture has been on hold for the past year, while influencing on the artists, and of course every caretaker of any music scene, the working crews and clubs took quite the hit. In your area, do you believe that the vast majority is bound to come back after this hell goes over?

Thorben: I do hope so. I feel for everybody that has suffered losses during this bullshit. I’m hoping there is going to be a boom for events because people are hungry for it. I sure as hell can’t wait to see bands touring again and crazy people coming together to celebrate it.

Your project band, Cambion, has been out there for a little more than seven years, as it seems, slowly building itself up until the first major peak moment, the debut album. Before we enter the debut album’s universe, I have to know, is Cambion merely a studio project or is also a live entity that eventually would take up the stage?

Thorben: Cambion began as a studio project, because of the distances since I live in Germany. Rich and I have been friends since our first band in 1996 called “Obscuratio”, when I lived in Texas. And when we put Cambion together, it was mainly due to the technological possibilities to be able to collaborate and create music this way. I think currently it’s impossible to play live for obvious reasons or to even plan anything. But never say never.

This album was actually released on its own earlier in 2020, right at the moment when things started to shake up worldwide. However, you signed later on with Lavadome Productions only to release the record this year. Was it a decision right on the spot to sign with the label for the means of extra exposure, or were you looking for something more?

Thorben: That is actually not correct. Somebody apparently got wind of the track listing and took the excerpt of the cover from our Facebook page and made the entry in the Encyclopaedia Metallum. We released our Demo “Unfold Chaos Supreme” via Lavadome in 2015 and it was already planned to put out the debut on Lavadome from the beginning as well.

Entitled with nothing stronger than mystical, strange or bizarre, “Conflagrate The Celestial Refugium”, hit me right up and didn’t really enable me to stray away. What first interested me was the actual title, quite out of the ordinary, pretty much like the music that it represents. What can you tell about this title and its meaning?

Thorben: To burn down the safe place and face the reality of the hell before you. A confrontation with tyrannical religious aspects and bigotry.

Rich: The song imagines that heaven shelters child rapists, as the earthly catholic scum do. It then talks about immolating this final refuge for pederasty.

What would you say is the common ground between the songs on the philosophical end? What kind of theme makes this record as a whole? Perhaps a form of a message that is constantly being spread?

Thorben:  Every song tells its own story. And has its own lyrical inspiration.

Rich:  We go where the muse takes us, whether from a musical or lyrical perspective. There’s no single theme this time.

Would you say, coming to a personal note, that this record shares your inner beliefs in regards to what is going on nowadays, or rather earlier days that have an effect on you?

Thorben: There are definitely aspects in the lyrics that mirror my dislike for people who try to force their opinion, belief or way of living on others.  Aside from that there are many dark and horrifying topics to find in humanity which seem to be relevant today as much as thousands of years ago.

What goes on within the halls of “Conflagrate The Celestial Refugium” is pure assault, high octane and immensely energetic piece of extreme Metal, relying on the technical madness of Death Metal yet with a slight blackened ornamentation for extra crisps. When you look back on the songwriting period of the album, how would you say that you as a group developed through that phase?

Thorben: One thing that has definitely occurred is that we intensified on real collaboration rather than write music on our own and presenting almost finished songs and arrangements to each other. And that in my opinion really adds to the quality of the songs.

On a personal note, we have been making music for some years now and I found that I’m not one to keep going with the same level of guitar playing, for example, that has worked in the past. Especially on the technical side. There are many bands these days that blow my mind with abilities that inspire me to stay hungry and continue to improve my playing. On the other hand, we always love to reach back to the roots for simplicity and draw out the perfect hooks.

We talked about the record being highly ballistic and energetic, what would you say were your inspirations and motivation to keep the pedal to the Metal, or simply put stone on the gas pedal right there? How would you say that your vision of the record shaped up?

Thorben: Well, I would say that one of the ways to keep it that energetic is to add dynamic. There’s a big difference between our demo and this debut, I think, in that we lay off the gas and hit the brakes once in a while to then go full throttle again, with more twists and turns. So, it’s more of a roller coaster then a free fall.  I would say that the finished product is beyond our expectations and we’re very proud of it.

Delivering such a strong, and versatile, piece of music, can never be so easy, maybe even somewhat agonizing I can assume, in particular when recording. What were the challenges that stood in your way while the record was in the making? How did you mitigate these risks?

Thorben: Surely the biggest challenge is that none of us were ever in the same room during the process of writing, rehearsing and recording. Given the current situation, I think probably everybody now uses the modern communication tools to work this way. This is what we made great use of already two years ago. Sending photos, tabs, rough recordings, videos and also doing video conferences. In the end everybody recorded on their own and had to defeat their own biggest critic: themselves. I think it’s awesome that everybody performed so well, without the bandmates breathing down their neck.

Another aspect is how some of the material changed from the demo version to the final cut on the album. Some songs were dissected and rearranged because we didn’t feel blown away and then in the end they came out so strong you clench your teeth nodding.

When it comes to technical Metal music, I always wondered how it was possible to ensure a measure of connection between the music and lyrics. Since “Conflagrate The Celestial Refugium” is a direct attack, firing the guns constantly, how did you find that cohesion?

Rich: It depends on the circumstance. For example, Thorben had the name of the title track before the words were written. Its fiery character led me to envision the theme. By contradistinction, a song like “Eiton Euclarion” has a gloomy atmosphere, so antinatalistic / existential subject matter is more fitting than an infernal one.

One the chief aspects of the record is the ultra sonic blazing soloing segments. If there is something that I miss in a lot of technical Death Metal based bands is the soloing factor. How do you find soloing action as a contribution to the technical means of the record and in overall of course?

Thorben: You are probably the first one to comment on this. The solos have been a big part in Cambion. This is due to the fact that Dick and I worship old Slayer and have always loved the trade-off chaotic leads. I have also been a big fan of Trey Azagthoths and Gene Palubickis lead playing.

But even back in the 90s it seemed that was going out of style. And I played with people that wanted little or no leads at all. To me that felt like having to play using only three fingers. Hahahaha in the end I totally understand that not every song or band concept is fit to have solo parts. So, to me if the guitar work in a song is already so demanding or interesting without a lead, that works beautifully. I have to admit, though, that in Cambion we usually reserve parts for leads during every writing process. Hahaha

For this record, you were able to take under the band’s wing a massive drummer, Chason Westmoreland, which already had great flings with bands such as Hate Eternal, The Faceless and Abigail Williams. How do you find Westmoreland’s contribution to the overall result of the record?

Thorben: We completely jumped at the chance that this happened. Chason’s contribution were a real blessing. He really made the songs crush even harder and on the other end opened them up with very creative percussion bits and accents. Working with him was absolutely amazing since he is such a cool dude and totally open to what little suggestions we had.

I loved how we’d talk about what beats go where and when I’d say “ok, this part should be a blast”, he’d throw out this amazing piece with crazy cymbal work and double bass drum patterns with some 32nd note pauses all while maintaining that precise hammering on the snare.

“Obscuratio”, your clincher instrumental piece, which I found to be quite of an interesting arrangement, maybe once a few segments sewn together into a bewildered beast. What can you tell about the formation and writing of this multi dimensional artistry?

Thorben: You know, that song is probably the most thought out of the bunch. Or rather, where we talked about what we wanted to do, before having any riffs at all. We pictured an instrumental song that actually starts out with clean guitars, picks up to more moderate speeds and then builds up into a frenzy.

Without trying to sound philosophical or anything, I’d like to compare it to painting on canvas, because of how layered it is. That’s really how it felt. And since it’s an instrumental, it was really cool to just completely think in music and not having to worry about where vocals would go. It’s kind of like an unadulterated emotional outpour.

Which of the tracks to you believe to be the most influential, where you channeled your impact the most?

Thorben: I would probably say (in the order they appear on the record):
o  The title track- because it starts the albums with peeling your face off
o  Cambion"- the song is titled after band since it compasses the main vibe and includes our love for thrash and angry spastic riffing in one song
o "Cities of Brass" - because of its twists and turns, weird beat signatures and yet unbridled straightforward fury
o   "Eiton Euclarion" -  because of its really dark demeanor mixed with technical riffs

So what is planned next for your guys at Cambion? How is 2021 looking forward for you?

Thorben: Of course promoting the debut album, which we hope people who like this kind of shit will really dig. Aside from that we have already been keeping busy working on new material and demoing out songs. I think we have been so psyched about this first album that we seem to be keeping the momentum and ideas are just flowing. So, we’re looking to maybe even start tracking by late this year. Everyone is on board and itching. I think this is going to be a fantastic year.

Thorben, I wish to thank you for your time for this interview. I believe that you made a burnt offering for technical Metal, and came up with a massive entry. All the best and cheers .

Thorben: Thank you very much for having me here and this great interview, Lior! Really glad you enjoy the album and I hope the readers of your massive zine will check it out! Beast regards!



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