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Human Fortress’s Volker Trost: “We were young and spent all our time in the rehearsal room. If all friends went to the beach we'd book us the room to practice and write songs. Lots of work and lots of fun in the same way.”

Interview with Volker Trost from Human Fortress
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 06 December 2020, 9:39 PM

Back when it was all fun and games, well perhaps not games but rather true focused hard work. Being a newcomer, especially for bands that wanted more than merely being a rehearsal room band and developing a career, isn’t simply laying down and waiting for something. Such a band has to create chances, to aspire to become something more than they are in order to step in the threshold onto the next level. The German Human Fortress are two decades old, they stepped through several thresholds and veils, and proved themselves worthy. Through their upcoming new compilation release, “Epic Tales & Untold Stories”, their story is being told and their musical entity slowly growing into the magnificence they are today. Steinmetal talked to founder Volker Trost about the new release, returning to Massacre Records, old memories, the selected songs and more…

Hello Volker, once again it is great to have you for an interview for Metal Temple online Magazine. Our last interview was in quite a different time, as if in a different reality I’d say. How have you been sir?

Hey Lior, it's really cool to be back at Metal Temple after such a short time. I´m fine, thanks a lot. Yes, times are strange at the moment. All Metal Fans nearly lost a year of live events and open airs … really sad and unreal….

As I was saying, these last several months, almost a year to be honest, have been quite eventful when it comes to the Covid-19 pandemic. How have you been holding on all this time? What has been keeping you going?

Fortunately, all our recordings and business activities were finished before it all turned down. We did a lot of work before and were really focused on “Reign of Gold” and worked out all details with Thomas Hertler and Massacre Records to be best prepared for our new release “Epic Tales & Untold Stories”. Meanwhile I renovated my house and prepared my Home Studio for new demo recordings. There was no time for me to get bored.

After our last interview, where you were celebrating your latest release, “Reign of Gold”, I thought that there would be a wait until the next release, yet all of a sudden, out of nowhere, you are back with new material, a compilation and back to Massacre Records. What happened? What caused this swift transition?

We have recorded all material we wrote during the “Reign of Gold” sessions. At least we had to decide which tracks fit best on that CD. The songs on “Epic Tales and Untold Stories” are a little different. They are great as well but the styles are not 100% the same. So we are really happy that we have the chance to get them released with Massacre.

We stood in contact with Thomas from Massacre all the years and he was very interested in the material that wasn't released and he told us about his idea of a double CD with a Digi Book and a limited vinyl edition as well. So it was an easy decision to go back to Massacre Records and get the new songs and a best of on top released.

What generated the decision to come up with a double album this time around? Was this a belated anniversary party for the band, which clocked two decades just recently or Covid related reason due to the inability to perform live?

The funny thing is that we basically have not planned a new release to our 20 anniversary. After coming together with Massacre, Thomas was really pleased about the unreleased songs and so the idea grew up to put something on top and get it released at our 20 anniversary. Massacre wanted to release “Epic Tales & Untold Stories” in December 2020. But the pandemic has changed all planning. The new schedule is 22. January 2021 which is 20 years after the release of “Lord of Earth and Heavens Heir”.

Regarding our live performance, you may know our singer Gus Monsanto is from Brazil so it's always a little different to play shows. After our gigs with Orden Ogan and Mob Rules we did a show with our brothers of King Leoric. We also had a few applications to play live from all over the world and to support a european tour as well. But unfortunately it is not that easy to handle all logistics and time frames to get it finally happened in the past. I think for now we have to wait and see when the pandemic will be over. It would be very great to play a few anniversary shows and the new songs live but it seems that we had to postpone all up to next year and see what could be possible.

Checking out the new material, alongside two special versions of the band’s early ones, I have to say that it sure sounds somewhat different, not that continuing the stuff on “Reign Of Gold”, but, it sounds quite romantic and charming in its special way, even the heavier parts. What is your take on it?

That's exactly what I said before. These songs are great in their own way. Sometimes we have strong ideas, melodies and when we start working with them they grow and grow, like the idea for an orchestral version for “Pray for Salvation”. The atmosphere fits perfectly and so we decided that the song needs to be released in that version also. The song “We are Legion”, a really heavy one, was written for the “Defenders of the Crown” re-release with our former singer Jioti Parcharidis on vocals. At that time as a demo version only and we want to get it released full produced also. “Disappeared in Dark Shadows” and “Cruel Fantasy” are a little more experimental for our style. Yes, a little romantic with their own charm.

Were these new songs featured on the first part of the release considered as b-sides, songs that didn’t make it to the cut of the “Reign of Gold” tracklist, or rather brand new material and unreleased so-called leftovers?

Of course not. We have recorded all material we wrote during the last three years. After the recordings we had a picture and wanted to have these songs on the CD who fit together best. They describe Human Fortress. We haven't seen a ballad or a little more experimental song on the “Reign of Gold” album as well as we do not record or work out ideas who could possibly be leftovers. As we all can see now, it was the right decision. So we have an unbelievable package for our fans as well as we are proud to have the possibility to get it out exactly at our anniversary as DigiBook and Vinyl.

Would you say that there was an intent to show a different side of Human Fortress on the newer material? One of the noticeable aspects is the performance of Mr. Monsanto, which was less fierce than his usual soaring self

It depends on the ideas/ material. Sometimes there are strong melodies which are less epic, rather more melodic. If we like these melodies we work them out. So it could happen that we write songs who are sounding a little different. In my opinion Gus feels the songs and intonate them perfectly. It makes no sense to scream in a song if it is a ballad or a more profound song. Gus always came along with good ideas and we talked about the lyrics and each song before we recorded them. “Disappeared in Dark Shadows” for example is that kind of song or the bridge of “Fernweh”. Sometimes something different is a little more interesting and I'm sure you don't want a record with screams from the beginning to the end

“Pray For Salvation”, a scorcher from “Raided Land”, was awarded with an orchestral version that ended up to be heavenly pleasing, showing a lot of character to this number along with its modified arrangement. How did it feel to take such a passionate song, with strong lyrics and putting it under this orchestral treatment?

It simply happened. While writing the strings with Dirk we sometimes mute all other instruments to figure out what could work best. As everything was arranged, we´d look at each other and knew that it sounds so deep and interesting that it could work only with vocals as an orchestral version. We picked up this idea again after Gus did the vocals on it and … it works great – so it needed to be released.

I found the second part of the album, the best of material, to be quite exhilarating. Since I have been following you guys for many years, it sent flashbacks through my thought patterns, making me remember older days, yet fondly. When you sat down to listen to this compilation part of the album, what went through your mind?

What a question … at first I was thinking about the funny times we had during the “Lord of Earth and Heavens Heir” and “Defenders of the Crown” eras. We were young and spent all our time in the rehearsal room. If all friends went to the beach we'd book us the room to practice and write songs. Lots of work and lots of fun in the same way.

Thinking about our times on stage and our Wacken Gig in 2003 as my lilo lost its air and I had to sleep aground. Coming together after the split, finding Dirk, André and Gus and of course the pressure and expectations we had put on ourselves during the “Raided Land” sessions. And now we are talking about 20 years …. To answer this question, it would take a book to write it all down…

If you had a chance to talk to the younger Volker Trost, coming out with the debut album “Lord of Earth and Heavens Heir” with a rather newcomer band, Human Fortress, what would you tell him? What kind of warning signs or perhaps friendly advice would you give him?

I would say that he should have had to start a little earlier making music and playing in a band. He has wasted a little time doing too many other things… take care about all business issues because sometimes it won't be easy. Keep your spirit alive and preserve your fun in making music, even if somethings went in a different way. And for life's journey: The glass is always half full

I have to ask, because it made me crazy while listening, you chose some great tracks from “Defenders of the Crown”, which I find to be your all-time best album, however, why did you leave out such stellar tunes as “Schattentor” and "Knights in Shining Armour", two strong numbers that are a Metallic blessing, undeniable of the band’s legacy? Wasn’t there any chance to stick in one or two extra songs?

I´m completely with you and I exactly have in mind as we wrote the chorus of “Knights in Shining Armour”. We finished a rehearsal and I played a small riff, just jamming, and Dirk (Marquardt –  former Keyboard player) asked me to play it a few times and we caught it up. The chorus - “Knights in Shining Armour” - was born after Jioti had written the lyrics. Those are the things that happen while rehearsing and that is one of the reasons why I make music. It's not plannable at all.

Coming back to your question … we want to have songs from every release on the “Epic Tales & Untold Stories”, to give everyone a picture of our work of the last 20 years. Furthermore, every band member has his own favs and we have not enough space for all songs we wanted to have … so we had to decide… and some songs couldn´t be considered. I really like “Schattentor” or “Skin and Feather” or “Siege Tower” … As you can see I'm suffering also ☺. Talking about “Defenders of the Crown” only it's funny because this CD was not noted that well after its release. It was just an O.K. record for all editors. Now, after years, it's a classic and everyone talks about it … you can buy if you haven´t … (by the time :) )

Talking about the era of the first two albums, are you still in touch with your earlier vocalist, Jioti Parcharidis? He gave you quite a service earlier on, I know that he left years ago due to medical reasons back in the day, so unfortunate.

Yes, it was a mess. After coming together again, before starting to work on “Raided Land”, Jioti joined us also and we played a few old songs in our rehearsal room. It was quickly obvious that he couldn't sing furthermore. Unfortunately, we are not in contact that often. Once a year, sometimes longer. But we keep him updated about the band and meet him if there is a special happening or a birthday barbeque.  Much too less if you ask me ….

I know that your “Eternal Empire” album wasn’t that well received back in the day, yet was there no chance to squeeze out any song out of that peculiar, but somewhat interesting era of Human Fortress? What were your thoughts about it?

I talked with our former bass player Pablo Tammen once about this release. It is a cool record, in my opinion. I like it but it was not really a Human Fortress album and he agreed It's A little too far away from our ideas. But the band has changed in that times and it was released. So, now it belongs to our history and I'm sure that I´m not the only one who likes “Eternal Empire”.

I will not ask you which of the early material’s songs is your finest, I wouldn’t do that to you, but I will ask this, you have the two “Gladiator Of Rome” parts, one with Parcharidis and one with Monsanto, which of these two do you find to be your best? I know that Monsanto won my heart on this one along with the drama engulfing the tune.

Your questions are quite interesting – thanks for that! Really funny… we talked exactly about that as Toddy came up with the Idea to write a second Gladiator and now both songs are on the new release. Both are great even if they are a little different. Gus starts a little lower in the Vox and gives it a little sadness in the tonation because this gladiator is not really happy to fight for his life. But in the chorus he explodes and that gives the song something special. That was the basic idea instead of the first one where Jioti goes out to fight for honour and glory. I was not really sure if it works but finally these songs really rock and both are 100% Human Fortress.

Were there any considerations to insert live versions of some of the songs, which are regarded as hits? If so, why didn’t you include at least one?

That is indeed a really good idea and actually we – mainly André (Hort – Bass player) – is working at our live material. It is not yet prepared because we want to have it in the best quality possible. In social media you can find lots of our live material. Songs and full concerts as well. Perhaps we have another Idea for our unreleased live performances… So let's see what will happen in the future. It could easily be possible that we talk about it next time again.

So what is expected from Human Fortress this coming year as this compilation is great and all, but there is a need for a full length of brand new stuff. Do you see it happening near the end of 2021 perhaps?

At first I would be happy if we could play a few live shows/ open airs in 2021. Toddy and I brought together a few ideas but overall it is too early to promise something. I think it will take a little more time to get strong material for a full length album together. For the moment we are really proud to get “Epic Tales & Untold Stories” released and that the spirit is still alive!

Any thoughts of doing a live stream show with a best of set? Have you considered the option?

Not yet. I´m not sure about a live stream and its quality/ sounding. A best of set is an interesting idea. We have a few classics in our live shows but we want to play newer songs also … so it seems to be a decision of all band members. I know other bands have let the fans decide which songs should be played but I'm not sure if we are established enough to get it happening.

Volker, it was a pleasure to have you, I am thankful for this compilation, showing a true melodic Metal power, encompassing what Human Fortress has done over the past 2 decades. Cheers sir.

Thanks a lot Lior – it was my pleasure to talk to you again. I'm really delighted that you kept Human Fortress in mind for the last 20 years!  Stay healthy and take care.  Cheers Volker



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