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Rebellion's Thomas Göttlich: "… I pray that things here in Europe will not become that bad even with the conflicts between the EU and Russia. I think no side wants another world war…"

Interview with Thomas Göttlich from Rebellion
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 29 May 2021, 2:21 PM

The understanding between peoples, a task that has always been a challenging process, to find that angle that can gather people together, other than drowning the mud of endless fighting. One can always hope for a utopian solution, peace worldwide, every country holds hands with another. However, it might take decades or centuries, but the end of the road is not seen. The German Rebellion, returning to the scene, mark important events in modern history, channeling their criticism in towards nationalism and racism, telling history in hopes for the future to learn. Steinmetal had a great conversation with the band's founder, Thomas Göttlich, about the new release, the concept, songwriting and more… 

Hello Tomi, wow it has been years since we last spoke, needless to say seen each other, how have you been doing? What have you been up to?

Hi Lior, first and foremost I would like to say, that is it really good to get in touch again. I really enjoyed my time in Israel and will never forget it. I am well enough and very happy to do this interview.

This past year has been a challenging one, especially since it restricted people from following their ordinary lives, turning the process of living into an ordeal. How have you been coping with the pandemic? Do you see the end with the vaccinations? Are you hopeful?

The shutdown caught me quite unaware on the Philippines where I was taking a training to become a Divemaster. I barely managed to finish the course before I had to struggle back to Germany. Believe me it all was a really big adventure and became really scary when I realised that not making it back was a realistic option and would have left me stranded on the Philippines. In the end, I was lucky enough to catch the last plane.

The way we see the pandemic here in Germany is that we are finally looking towards the end of it and with that towards the end of all the measurements that had to be taken to achieve that. Yes, I am very hopeful that the vaccination will even increase and that we will gain the upper hand.

With all the mess that has been with this pandemic, at least you guys in Rebellion made the effort and took your time to write your next album, ninth in number, “We Are the People". To be honest, I had the feeling that it would be strong and not mainly because of the music. Unlike the vast majority of your albums, you focused on rather modern times in human history. First, what made you choose this particular era? And second, why particularly putting the French in your crosshair?

Rebellion made the best of the given situation. With all gigs cancelled, we dedicated the free time to writing that album. It gave us the chance to work really intensely on the material and by that process also to integrate the new members perfectly into the band.

We did choose to focus on modern times because we feel that the rise of nationalism here in Europe should not go uncommented. There is far too much at stake. We did focus on Germany because we are German and on France because the hereditary enmity between Germany and France has played a major role in both world wars. We are of course aware of the fact that there are other very important elements that we left unmentioned but a CD offers limited space so we did not see any other way.

You claim that nationalism and racism were the main causes for wars between the French Revolution and WWII. After the world changed its face after WWII, do you think that mankind learned? From my end of the table, mankind forgot the atrocities of the past to an extent.

Yes, I truly believe that at least Europe has learned. It all began with the reconciliation of France and Germany. It was indeed possible to build trust and friendship between our people. I can very well understand that this looks different from your perspective, we talked much about that when we met in person. That was indeed one of my main reasons to visit Israel, I wanted to understand how you think and why your government acts in the way it does and I must say that I do understand your situation much better now.

It took us Europeans generations to understand that even after such extensive wars like the two world wars the other people will still be there no matter how hard you hit them. Maybe one day the people in Israel and Palestine will also understand that and will hopefully draw the right conclusions but in the light of the present development that day may be in the far future.

In overall, the lyrical element within the concept, which showed a process that I see as never-ending, is at times shocking, twisted and no doubt eye opening. I guess that you wanted to show criticism at the highest of levels? Do you think that anyone would listen, open their minds to the possibilities that things have been done wrong even at a time where we are supposed to be smarter?

Yes, I really do, I know I am a die-hard optimist but then again what alternative do we have? The only plausible alternative you witness yourself in your country and I pray that things here in Europe will not become that bad even with the conflicts between the EU and Russia. I think no side wants another world war, after all we all profit much from peaceful trading and we live in relative safety, which is not granted to many others outside Europe.

These kinds of topics always raise the question of the nature of evil. It has been claimed that mankind’s essence, or spirit, is evil by nature. In light of “We Are the People", and even with the hopeful message of unity at the end, what do you make of it?

First of all, I do not believe in the concept of good or evil. That is a Christian (and Jewish) concept and it has ever served the purpose to divide people, us the good versus them the evil. All humans bleed red no matter of what race, color or religion. I believe that our action turns things into directions, what we do pays, so it is us that decide what becomes and what not. If there was an essence of evil, it would be easy to identify and root.

That is the principle of religion, to abandon the evil, that is why religions need that concept but in my conviction you cannot burdens some god to deliver you from evil. That is impossible since it all is inside you, it is part of you and it is not by nature good or evil it is your actions that decide what becomes of it. You must take that responsibility yourself and not leave it to some god.

Talking about the message of hope. It is true that nationalism received quite a blow after WWII, which also contributed to the rise of the European Union. However, and looking towards the future, do you believe that it has what it takes to withstand the challenges it faces? One of them is the UK’s pulling out of it for instance or Greece’s economic status

The European Union is a great experiment, which has never been undertaken before, as I wrote in the introduction words to the album, there is no blueprint. Things never develop in a straight line but in sideways moves and sometimes even take steps back, that is natural.

The Brexit is indeed a heavy blow and it remains to be seen, whether that was a smart move. The economic status of Greece is not really a question of survival for the European Union since the economy of Greece is small enough to leave Europe economically undamaged even in the unlikely case of a total collapse. It is rather a matter of solidarity and responsibility to stabilize Greece and support it to master its problems. I think that Greece has passed the peak of their crisis some years ago, numbers show that the economy is stabilizing year by year.

The album’s artwork looks to me like a story of sacrifice, resistance and valor. Out of the fire and into the light, it was worth shedding blood, and dying, for the purpose of unity and freedom. What do you make of it?

To me it shows Europe after the two world wars. I do not believe that there is much that is worth enough to shed blood for it or even to sacrifice one’s life. I know that many Metal songs say so in their lyrics even our songs from other albums do. But these are fictional stories, like movies if you want but in real life there are very few things that I would sacrifice my life for.

“We Are the People" surges into the Teutonic Metal power that has been the character of Rebellion since day one, however, this time around, a different turn took place. Suddenly, I wasn’t at Kansas anymore, but rather in a bleaker, uncharted land of Metal. Would you say that this album made a number on you guys, taking you to a different, but I would also claim next level, style of songwriting?

Since the Corona situation gave us enough time to really focus on the process of songwriting I did give the two guitarists a long leash. So we did try out some unusual harmonic or disharmonic structures, not all made it onto the album for it is still a Rebellion album but I do like every album to sound unique.

I asked myself, since I have been quite the follower of German Heavy Metal bands, that if a formula works, why change it. Nonetheless, I can understand the burning desire to make a change, even if it is a longshot chance that it will hold. Would you say that it was the general feel while you wrote the material for “We Are the People"?

There are far too many bands out there that keep releasing the same album over and over again. I have always tried to keep Rebellion off that list. I believe that each album develops out of a specific situation and as with children it is the job of the parents to give those developments room to grow and only cut back developments that really go into the wrong direction. Of course that is easily said but all in all we do have two new guitarists and I want the band to become their band so I must allow some influence. I cannot say how the next album will sound for again I will leave room enough for it to grow and become unique. But it may well be that what you claim to be “next level songwriting” will remain.

Even though you are quite the veteran songwriter, and you also made wonders in Grave Digger in the past, did the work on “We Are the People" felt like an upgrade of your abilities as a songwriter?

Definitely no, I have always followed the principles mentioned above; I have done so as a bandleader, as a teacher and also as a parent. I may have grown a bit wiser with the years and maybe trust those I lead more to allow them more room but that has nothing to do with my abilities as a songwriter but rather as a leader.

Over the last two years, Rebellion underwent a considerable lineup change, bringing into the fold two guitarists and a drummer. What do you make of the new blood? What was the new members’ contribution to the making process of “We Are The People”?

Well, that was not the first considerable lineup change and it may not have been the last though I hope it was. The new members are all much younger than myself and that makes it difficult but also can be seen as a great chance. I believe we have successfully combined the advantages of the youngbloods with the wisdom of age. That does not only concern songwriting but also the organization of the band. We have distributed the work on my shoulders fairly amongst ourselves and younger people are much better suited to manage important topics such as promotion via the new media. They are hungry and willing to work and that feels really good.

After quite a while since you had a different engineer for the album, your friend, and co-founder of Rebellion, Uwe Lulis, took over the entire production of the album. How did it feel to have him back, even in a different position? What is your appreciation of how Rebellion sounds with Lulis’ guidance?

Myself and Uwe have always remained in touch after he had left the band. So for me it did not really feel that special, it was very special for the three younger members though, after all Uwe does have a big name. But they warmed up soon and were surprised how cool and down to earth Uwe is. Uwe does have a completely different approach to recording than Ollie had, which is another factor that has shaped that album. I really appreciate the work Uwe has done for Rebellion on the new album.

I know that Uwe is strongly tied to Accept nowadays, however, no doubt that you two working together generated some amazing music over the years. Were there any talks about perhaps Uwe returning to Rebellion, or perhaps as a full time recording artist?

No, there were no such talks and I do not see that happening.

Going over the tracklist, I consumed the shifts between the old and new Rebellion, and I was captivated. Along with the lyricism, it was as if I received a blow on the head, a reminder of history’s brutal sense. You really penetrated my soul with some of the numbers here, and not merely “Shoa”, which it is natural since I am a Jew and it talks also about my people but in a different perspective. My question is, how did you find that angle for the cohesion between the music and lyrics?

Concerning Shoa it was not difficult, I simply told the story from my perspective. To tell it from the perspective of the victims would have been a farce since no one can seriously claim to take that point of view. As you know I have dedicated much time to investigate the Shoa, I have even travelled to Israel to see Yad Vashem. And I work with students at the memorial site of Buchenwald annually. So the lyrics were not really a problem, the music was. After two fruitless attempts I decided to take my two guitarists to the Buchenwald memorial site and gave them an extended tour. We spent a whole day there looking at the site and discussing how that song could sound … well you have heard the result and I hope you like it.

Which of the tracks that you find the dearest to you, and I know it is hard to ask, would you like to talk about, elaborate about the music and how it was created?

I cannot say which of the tracks is dearest to me that is like expecting a parent to point out one of his children, they are all so different and each is great in his own way. The same I must say about my songs. The extra time we dedicated to the songwriting process as already mentioned above we used also to adapt lyrics and music better to each other, both new guitarists really worked hard on their songs and constantly changed details to make them fit better to their topic, it is great that this come across.

How does 2021 look for Rebellion? Do you see yourself playing on stage this year?

We hope that the crisis will be over in a few months and we have some gigs scheduled so we do hope that we will be able to play live again this year.

Tomi, many thanks for your time for this interview, I know that it is long but I had a lot to ask, it could have been way more, trust me. It was great to witness the powerful influence of Rebellion once again and this album is simply mesmerizing. Thank you and cheers.

Lior, thanks a lot for your warm words, it was really great to hear from you again and I am more than happy that you like the new album. I will never forget the time we spent together in Israel, the long discussions, over too many beers and the friendliness you and your wife showed. I wish you all the best and hope we will meet in person again. Greetz, Tomi


 



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