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Final Cry's Kai Wilhelm: "To all those who are having a particularly hard time these days, be it through war and destruction or this shitty pandemic, we want to give courage and hope for better times. The day will come when we will all be united again..."

Interview with Kai Wilheim from Final Cry
by Thomas Kumke at 06 May 2022, 11:02 AM

FINAL CRY started their iconic career more than 30 years ago when Heavy and Thrash Metal were at a turning point. The band around Sonja and Burkhardt Sonnenburg have released six albums and their direction went more towards melodic Death Metal in recent years. This tendency was firmly established with the arrival of vocalist Kai Wilhelm and the new album “The Ever-rest” is a classical melodeath album with the epic melodies and the vocals being the album highlights. Metal Temple writer Thomas Kumke had the opportunity to speak with Kai Wilhelm about his long career in the Metal business, him as the missing piece of the FINAL CRY puzzle, and the new album.

Hello Kai, it is a real pleasure and I am really grateful to perform an interview with you for Metal Temple magazine. First of all I hope you and all your families are well and safe through a world that becomes crazier…

Kai: Hello Lior, it is also an honour and a pleasure for me, thanks a lot. Regarding your question: Yes, we are all doing quite well so far and we have all come through these wild times quite unscathed with our families. Let's hope that it stays that way and that one day the world will experience calmer and better and, above all, more peaceful days again.

So, restrictions due to the pandemic are gone and we all look forward to live tours and festivals. How is that feeling for a musician?

Kai: Just one word: Great! I don't think the last two years have been easy for any musician, especially if you are a live band with all your heart like FINAL CRY does. We live for the stage, the contact with the audience, the conversations with fans and colleagues on tour. Last but not least, as fans we are also enthusiastic concert and festival visitors ourselves, and it is not only our own concerts, but also other events we love meet friends and acquaintances who have all somehow become part of our "metal family" over time. The first visits to concerts a few weeks ago touched us deeply in part because we felt even more clearly at that moment what we had been missing for the last 2 years.

You have had an illustrious Metal career in various roles: vocalist, guitarist, running a magazine, doing artwork, and a few more…

Kai: Yes, the world has lost me hopelessly to metal since early adolescence, haha. But it was not planned to be active in so many roles 30 years ago, but somehow one thing always led to another. Through my very first bands, in which I played guitar as well as vocals, I came into contact with the then uprising underground scene in the mid-nineties, which harboured so much more than I was aware of through the usual magazines. This quickly led to the need to offer all this a own platform, which is why I founded the Eternity Fanzine with my girlfriend at the time, which quickly matured into a recognised scene institution till the end of the nineties. My passion for artwork also started at that time. While Eternity #1 still consisted of typed and copied pages, I bought my first own computer for #2 and fought my way through layout and DTP applications in the following years. A knowledge which was of course also helpful for the design of the first releases of my own bands and which in the course of time other, mostly friendly bands have also fallen back on. Through my professional path in the video industry, further synergies arose and so I sometimes stood behind the camera myself at large video and DVD productions (e.g. Wacken, Amon Amarth, Sodom etc.) or was involved in the production in some other way. No matter how I turned it around, you can say: in the end I always ended up in some active roles in front of, on or behind the stage. In between even on the side of the promoters for a while - and not least to the label activity, where I can perfectly use 30 years of experience to support and advance other bands and projects.

You are vocalist of Swedish melodic Death Metal band ACROSS THE BURNING SKY and joined FINAL CRY as a vocalist in 2021. How did it start with FINAL CRY?

Kai: How I came to FINAL CRY is a crazy story. Let me elaborate a bit more:  I made my way in my own bands from the early nineties till 2008 and with the dissolution of Subconscious (my last band) i considered my musical career to be over. I was fine with it, played over 150 shows and some of them outside Germany. For family reasons, I moved from Berlin to Lower Saxony in 2015. This also cut many personal and social ties, especially to other musicians in my hood, and it seemed *final* I was from now "no longer a musician". (I know by now that this is impossible ^^).  The thing why i breaked this „retirement“ with ACROSS THE BURNING SKY had a very personal touch. On the one hand, although I have been addicted to this style since the mid-nineties, I have never played in a band that celebrates this kind of Swedish death metal, even if some Subconscious stuff was stylistically not very far away from it. On the other hand, since the then surprising split, there still was a kind of "unfinished job" for me - and last but not least, the years between 2008 and 2015 were very emotionally eventful and upsetting for me. When it turned out while jamming that there was a possibility to satisfy my unfulfilled aims and also to process the events of this time, I didn't have to think twice to grab the chance arose to combine these private jam sessions into an album. With "The End Is Near" I have then found my inner peace as a "conclusion", so to speak. This album, in which I was also significantly involved in the songwriting, is therefore something very personal for me.

At this time a long-time friend of mine, Markus, was looking for support for MDD and approached me, as I had also worked for Maintain Records a few years before. This was a first step for me back into the music business. Since then we have shared the tasks at MDD/Black Sunset and run this business together.

To come back to FINAL CRY, at the beginning of January 2021, these 4-Track Promo landed on my desk. The stuff immediately excited me stylistically and it was clear to Markus and me that we definitely wanted to do something with the band. So I contacted Burghardt and signalled my interest. When it became concrete at the end of January, I clicked through various websites and social media profiles of the band to get a better idea of their standing in the scene in 2021 and to what extent we could cooperate with each other. Suddenly I came across the news, only a few days old, that the singer had left the band and that the band was looking for a successor. TilI this moment i didn't know where the band exactly was based, I only knew Burghardt's contact address in a town in East Frisia. In a rather casual remark, I wrote him something like: "We definitely want to do something with you, i totally dig your songs, if you weren't 350km away, I would apply to be your singer".
From that moment on, the events came thick and fast. Burghardt wrote that he was the only one who lived there, the band itself has its origins in Hameln. I found out that all this is only 30 km away from my residence, whereupon he offered without obligation to meet.

I was instantly gripped by musician fever, and after a sleepless night I sent Burghardt all the material from me I could find. The Subconscious album, the Across The Burning Sky album, a long list of 15 year old video footage of me on stage that are circulating on Youtube - and to my great delight Burghardt was very excited. He send me two instrumental versions, i holed up in my basement for 2-3 weeks to somehow train my voice and sent the result back to him at the end of February with an official letter of application to the whole band. In order to avoid a conflict of interest, we finnished the deal with MDD beforehand, as this should not be understood as part or condition of my personal engagement at any time. We met for two rehearsals and. already at the second in early March, the band revealed to me that their decision had been made and that I only had to say "yes". This YES shot out of me barely a breath after the band had finished their sentence! I wanted nothing in the world more than to be the new frontman of FINAL CRY at that point! The rest is history by now.

Joining a band in the middle of the pandemic is surely not the best time…

Kai: I have to disagree in our case. I think there could not have been a better time! There were no shows and concerts, we were all sitting at home and had all the time in the world. Time to think about decisions. Time to make plans. Time to rehearse, without pressure to must have a liveset ready in a few weeks. This, in turn, meant that we had plenty of time to write new song material and work on the arrangements. As far as my vocal performance is concerned, you can imagine that after a 13-year break there was a lot of catching up to do before I was back on a level that satisfied the requirements of the material. Also, the band hasn't been known for being particularly fast with songwriting in the last few years haha. We used all the extra time incredibly effectively, sending song fragments to each other via various online tools and also outside of the few rehearsals we each worked on the songs and arrangements at home. It's really amazing how much you can do online these days. Without the pandemic, there would probably not have been a complete new FINAL CRY album so quickly.

You surely came across with FINAL CRY over the years as editor for the Eternity magazine. What were your thoughts on the band before you joined them as a vocalist?…

Kai:  Of course, I knew the band through my work at Eternity. They has been a constant in the German underground for decades and at least here in germany there is hardly anyone who in involved in this scene and has never heard of the guys and the girl. I already knew their first demo, which the band released about the same time as Eternity started. The band was also featured twice in our magazine and on the compilation CD until 2000. Their first "professional" demotape (Stormclouds, 1996) I found only a few weeks ago while rummaging through my shelf. It had been lying just about a metre away from my daily workspace for all those years.

But I have to admit that I lost sight of them a bit in the last 10 years. I always had the band on my radar as a power/thrash metal band with partly rough but consistently melodic vocals. The four new songs surprised me quite a bit, just like the "Zombique" album which I listened afterwards and which already has a clear Death Metal touch, not least because of Eiko's growl vocals. I have to admit that at the first time I wasn't sure if I was really the kind of singer the band was looking for and needed - and therefore wrote the following sentence in my application letter: "I'm honestly not a melodic singer but rather an aggressive screamer…. I hope that's still enough to at least meet for a beer".  I thought eventually it could also be that the Zombique album is just a "slip" and that the band secretly longs back for more melodic vocals. Besides this my only thoughts was: "I want to be a part of this band". Especially after our first meeting more than before. We didn't really know each other personally before, despite all the crossroads over the years, but the four of them were incredibly nice to me at our first rehearsal. I was as excited as a little child and was warmly welcomed and provided with small talk and beer until the excitement subsided before it got down to business. It was the first time I had been in a rehearsal room in 13 years, and from the first note we played together I realised what I had been missing all this time. It was also clear to me at the first meeting that I had found exactly the four people with whom I wanted to end my state of "not being a musician".

FINAL CRY are as long in the Metal business as you are. In the past, they had a few vocalists coming and going. Starting rather as a Thrash Metal band, FINAL CRY moved towards melodic Death Metal over the years while you are a fan of it for a long time. Are you the perfect fit for FINAL CRY?

Kai: You'd have to ask the others at this point, haha. As far as the musical development is concerned, especially the many dark, cold, Nordic vibes on "The Ever-Rest", I would say: I at least fit pretty well with this album and the basic mood that we want transports on it. The band also does not pursue an imposed "evil" image, but through the thrash metal roots and the connection with the classic "Being a metal fan" of the late 80s, the fun in the music is in the foreground with FINAL CRY, especially live. This relaxedness, also being able to laugh and have fun on stage, is very much in line with my own idea.
If you ask the question the other way round: "Is FINAL CRY the perfect fit for me", the answer can only be: Yes! 200%. For several reasons: From a musical point of view, FINAL CRY is something like the link between my previous activities. Subconscious on the one hand and Across The Burning Sky on the other - both would meet stylistically at the point and sound of FINAL CRY. In my view, there are songs and passages from all three bands that could also be on an album by one of the other. The same goes for the human component. They has an unbelievable familiarity with each other because they have known each other since they were children, which is of course also noticeable in the way they communicate. Many things don't even have to be explicitly discussed, because they understand each other almost blindly and without many words. This may be difficult for new members, because it could be perceived as a kind of "closed society" to which one has no access as an outsider. But I myself have never found this to be a problem, as I have come to know and appreciate this kind of almost blind trust and togetherness from my previous bands. Last but not least, I was given the same trust and freedom by the band right from the start as they have practiced among themselves for years. From day one, I don’t felt not just "the new singer", but it was clearly signalled from the others to me that from this day on, FINAL CRY is also "my band".

When you joined FINAL CRY, parts of the new album “The Ever-Rest” were already recorded. Did you have the opportunity to be part in the songwriting process, or at least for the lyrics?

Kai: As far as lyrics are concerned, that has always been Burghardt's profession. He is the literature fanatic, the historian and the songwriter in the band and he probably has a lyrical idea for every note he composes from the very beginning, because lyrics and music ideally complement each other in their basic mood. That's how it has turned out over the years and I think he's very happy with it. As far as songwriting is concerned, it's a bit different. Burghardt usually writes the songs in a very basic way and mainly outlines the basic mood, leaving enough space for everyone else to build on this basic framework. Most of the leads and also many melodies crystallise in the further course when Eiko contributes his guitars. You can compare it to Burghardt arriving with a turnkey building and the others being free to decorate and paint it and provide with inventory and also extensions at their choice. This means that everyone who wants - can realise themselves. When I joined the band, I was also given all the freedom to contribute to the arrangements. Even with the already recorded songs, nothing was set in stone. I could also have rearranged or changed texts in terms of content if I had thought it was worthwhile. So, with the exception of "Down The Icefall", none of the other three songs on the finished album are the same as they were in January 2021 cause it was possible for me to give the songs my own touch. After all, every singer has his own peculiarities in terms of style, division and accentuation, and it certainly wouldn't have done the album any good to leave the already finished songs as they were, come hell or high water, and only take my influences into account on the newer songs.

With the newer songs I was able to get involved in the entire songwriting process and we worked out some parts together, whereby I was given complete free rein with the vocal arrangements. Since there was enough time due to the pandemic, I also used it and experimented a lot with the epic parts of "Ascending The Avalanche" and the chorus of "The Ever-Rest", for example. There were different versions of each of the songs during pre-production, some of which we quickly discarded - and others we developed further. I think this is also an important aspect of the band's overall identification with the album. For my part, I intend to be not only "another" singer but above all be and remain the last FINAL CRY singer - and therefore i wanted make "The Ever-Rest" also "my" album, just as it is the album of every other one of us.

As the album title “The Ever-Rest” and a few other song titles suggest, there is a concept behind the new album. What are the lyrics about?

Kai: As I already mentioned, the lyrical concept comes from Burghardt. In general, the concept could be described as a story about the confrontation between man and nature in modern times. The urge of man to achieve the almost unattainable, to strive for ever higher and further goals and in the end either to achieve them, to fail because of nature or his own hubris - or even to die trying. In detail, however, it is very specifically about the history of High Altitude Mountaineering since the early 20th century with all their heroic tales, triumphs and tragedies based on real stories behind the events. It is not a concept album in the sense of a coherent story, but each song is a single, self-contained story and the album is a loose collection of these stories, which you could also tell in the evening around a campfire. There are although already a few themes in metal that take place in icy landscapes, but these are either pure nature stories or fairy tales and myths. We, on the other hand, simply wanted to tell the more exciting true stories. By the way, all FINAL CRY albums are concept albums if you want to call them that. Over the years, this has simply become a trademark for the band and some traditions should be kept.

“The Ever-Rest” was released in March 2022. How was the response to the album so far?

Kai: We are overwhelmed. Of course, as a band you go into every release with the feeling that you have just released the best album in the world, but we are also experienced enough to know that reviews often reflect a purely subjective view of the author and that you cannot correspond to every taste in the world. Nevertheless, our euphoria was curbed a bit when the first 2-3 reviews that were published were among those that were quite restrained. Fortunately this did'nt turn in a trend and, with 2-3 exceptions, "The Ever-Rest" has almost consistently achieved ratings in the upper range between 75-100%. Thanks to an outstanding promotional work by MDD and also The Metallist PR, we have given more interviews for this album than in the entire past career of the band - haha. But the most important thing for us is the feedback from our long-time fans and friends, who were fortunately very excited. Many of them have been following the band through their path of musical development since its early days. We are more than pleased that this seems to be the case with "The Ever-Rest" as well and that people are also supporting the change in vocals and the new musical influences and honouring them accordingly in a positive way. Of course, everyone has their favourite, especially with a history like FINAL CRY. For some it's the Zombique album with Eiko's vocals, for others it's one of the albums with Mario Reese, who shaped the band's style for a long time. From my point of view that's completely legitimate. I didn't join the band to replace the past or to make it forgettable, but to add a new chapter to the history and to carry it into the future. So it doesn't matter if "The Ever-Rest" is everyone's favorite album, what matters is that people like it and understand and support it as part of our journey - and that's definitely the case! Furthermore, "The Ever-Rest" has brought us a lot of new audiences, especially outside of Germany, who didn't know the band before and the feedback here is also great. The album has broken all previous band records on streaming and download platforms - and what we are most happy about: despite the availability on streaming platforms, people have bought our CD, even the limited box set has found its market and there is already a big pile of pre-orders for the vinyl edition, which will be released later this summer. For all these great responses we are incredibly grateful and really happy.

For me, “The Ever-Rest” was the completion of a change in sound of FINAL CRY towards traditional melodic Death Metal and the vocals are the key element of that. How would you describe the sound of “The Ever-Rest”?

Kai: I understand what you mean with "completion of a change". But you have to take into account that this development didn't happen from one moment to the next. If you listen to "Wolves Among Sheeps" from 2002, you can already hear the band's current sound. "Neptunes Relief" from 2007 would probably have been called a melodic death metal album if it had appropriate vocals. Anyway, the songs we have from it in the current live-set with my vocals don't really stand out from the rest of the set and the newer songs. Personally I would describe "The Ever-Rest" as a METAL album first and foremost and add "Melodic Death Metal" in the second sentence, because of course, especially with the combination with my vocals, this is the prevailing mood of the album. Maybe "Melodic Death Metal with strong Thrash Metal influences", because especially through songs like "Into The Whiteout" and "Seven Summits" the Thrash Metal attitude is still a big part of our sound. But even if people call it Black/Death Metal, no one in the band has a problem with that, because we ourselves have also counted bands like Dissection or Naglfar among our influences for years - and I also think that the choice in the search for a singer would not have fallen on me if the band had not wanted to go this way.

What are your favorite tracks from “The Ever-Rest”?

Kai: My secret favorite is "The Beckoning Silence" because it combines all the trademarks of the band. There is this melodic, almost danceable chorus, which builds a wonderful bridge to the previous album, the thrashy basics, some blast beats, and above all this frosty-cold Melodic Death atmosphere. Then, of course, besides the title track, "Down The Icefall", which is basically the secret anthem of the album, and "Ascending The Avalanche" because it is the most unusual piece for the band so far with its strong black metal vibes. This great chorus at the end of the song with the equally great Børd Wäsche on guest vocals is one of the most gripping moments of the album for me.

The release of videos is today more important than ever before. So far, FINAL CRY released a lyric video of the title song of the new album. Do you plan more video releases near future?

Kai: Yes, that is what we intend to do. Unfortunately, the monetary aspect is not completely unimportant in this topic. We get offered a complete concept for an extraordinary story video, which we have not yet been able to realize for financial reasons. With an album concept like this, you can't just stand in a meadow or a backyard and sing about frost, ice and death. Well, maybe you could and maybe we will in the end haha, but basically we would all like to have a really outstanding video clip, with actors and extras in historical costumes, which takes place somewhere on a mountain in ice and snow. This plan is not quite off the table yet, but we are not really in a hurry with a decision at the moment and will sit down together when we have covered the costs for studio and production, as well as our advance payments for merchandise and vinyl.

But we know how important videos are nowadays, because it makes the band more "tangible" for many people and it is also important for us to build up a connection to our fans and listeners. For this reason, we have also pimped up our YouTube channel in the last few weeks and structured it with various sections and playlists in which we will collect live recordings, snippets and other things and share them with all metalheads who are well-disposed towards us.

Coming back to you as a vocalist. You are very much into melodic Death Metal, which has been a growing genre over the last two decades. Do you have any vocalists who inspire you?

Kai: Personally, I'm not someone who can explicitly recite names of individual musicians, which of course doesn't mean that there are no inspirations. But these are rather whole bands or certain albums that have influenced me and whose basic atmosphere and vocal styles represent an inspiration for me. This includes Unanimated with "Ancient God Of Evil" as well as Dissection's "Storm Of The Lights Bane" and of course - and probably above all - Dark Tranquillity's "The Gallery" and "The Minds Eye" to whom I owe to lost my heart to the genre of Swedish death metal.

Speaking about future plans of FINAL CRY. What are your plans during the upcoming months? When do we see FINAL CRY on the road?

Kai: We can happily report that after a 2 year pandemic break we made our "live comeback" last weekend! Behind us are two shows in Hamburg and Braunschweig before which we were of course all a bit excited. They were the first shows for the band since March 2020, the first shows with a new album and last but not least the first shows with me as the new frontman. For me, it was also the first time on a stage after 13.5 years. Of course, we knew after the last 12months that it is a good match between us, both personally and musically, but we were really looking excited forward to the live situation because of all the circumstances and premieres. I can tell you that both shows were incredibly great. I think we have grown together into a great human and musical unit in the last year, even without shows, and have felt comfortable together on stage from the first note, whereby one or the other emotion overwhelmed us after the shows, when we realized what we had missed about being "on the road". FINAL CRY is a band that lives for the stage. The live energy, the contact to fans and colleagues on the spot. We want to and will make up for all that in the next few months. We've been sitting at home long enough and luckily there are already more shows in the pipeline, not all of which dates have been released yet. It is of course especially difficult this year because all the postponed tours and festivals of other bands are being made up and the venues are booked up accordingly, but we will do everything we can to play live as much as possible. We have a lot of catching up to do!

We are near the end of my questions. Is there anything you would like to tell to your fans or the readers of Metal Temple magazine?

Kai: We would like to thank all those who have remained loyal to this band over the years and at the same time welcome all those who have only discovered the band through the new album. To all those who don't know us yet, we would like to shout: "JOIN US!"

 In addition, we feel the need to express our wish for peace and more humanity in these confusing times and to share this with all listeners and readers! We are all part not only of the metal family, but also of the human family! Don't let yourselves be seduced by hatred and envy. To all those who are having a particularly hard time these days, be it through war and destruction or this shitty pandemic, we also want to give courage and hope for better times. The day will come when we will all be united and celebrate metal together again, break through barriers and leave separation and suffering behind us! We are with you!

Thank you so much for that amazing interview, I really enjoyed it and I am looking forward to see FINAL CRY live somewhere and sometime in the future.

Kai: Thank you very much Lior for this very interesting and in the end also very personal interview. I wish you and Metal Temple continued success and a loyal readership and hope very much that our paths may cross live in the future.


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