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Rolf Munkes (Crematory)

Interview with Rolf Munkes from Crematory
by Anton Sanatov at 29 August 2017, 5:32 AM

Adaptation is part of existence. In music much like in life adjustments must to be made and new roads taken – or built. CREMATORY are no strangers to such sentiments, having been a band for just north of three decades. As members came and went the band marched on are now on the brink of releasing their latest live CD/DVD compilation “Live Insurrection” (due out on 08/09/2017 through SPV/Steamhammer) following their acclaimed 2016 effort “Monument”. In light of that, Metal Temple writer Anton Sanatov took a chance to speak with the band’s guitarist Rolf Munkes (one of the band newer members but nonetheless an industry veteran himself) about his time with the band, the joys of live music, and the keys to making a good record.

Hi Rolf, how’s it going?

Great, thanks.

Would you like to get started?

Yes, let’s go.

You are relatively new to the band-fold, having joined in 2015, how has your time in the group been so far?

It’s been a wonderful time. We’ve done a lot of concerts, we did a record, we’ve recorded the recently released live album - which is why we’re dong the interview I guess. It’s a funny bunch of people, we always have fun. The group is coming together and we’re playing better and better; so it has been a great journey for me, really wonderful.

And how have the new songs been going live?

Well, we started we a lot of the songs from the “Monument” album, because we were all involved in them and we thought that it was really good to start with those songs, and then we rehearsed all the older stuff. I think we started with six songs from “Monument”, although in the actual set we perform four. It has all been going pretty well.

And out of all the places that you’ve played so far with the band, where was CREMATORY met with the best reception?

We’ve travelled quite a bit now and I think that it would have to be more to the east. We played in Russia, in Czech Republic, in the eastern part of Germany (we only did a few things in the western part of Germany) and I don’t know if it was by accident but I think that there was slightly more interest in the east; don’t ask me why. (Laughs.)

Were you a fan of the band before?

I hadn’t heard too much of the band to be honest. When I was in MAJESTY in 2003 until 2006, we played together in Germany; they headlined a festival and we played two bands prior to them and we just met in the corridor. I knew the name and that was pretty much it. I knew “Tears of Time”, and that was the only song that I had heard, but I jumped in to see what they had. I didn’t know too much of the band because it was not the (musical) road that I was going down - I played more Hard Rock stuff and Metal - but CREMATORY was indeed quite Metal and so I dove into it and it was pretty cool. It’s good stuff, melodic stuff, and that’s what I like.

Was there anything that you had to adjust to? Were there any of the band’s writing/recording traits or specific ‘knowhow’ that was new/unusual to you?

No, not really; it was all good. We tuned the guitars pretty low, but since I have a studio and I have been recording for a long time I am quite familiar with low tunings, so everything was good. We rehearsed quite a few times, we partied a bit, and everything went smooth to be honest. No complications, nothing strange or awkward. All good.

The band’s sound is perhaps not known for an abundance of guitar solos, did you miss shredding or do you enjoy taking a more supporting role?

To be really honest it was quite new not to play solos like I did in other bands and to have much more freedom to just walk around during the set; but I really enjoyed doing things a bit different and to have the ability to just run around the stage and not have to worry if I’m back at my pedal board on time to press the solo button (laughs), and that’s fun, really fun, and I enjoyed that. It’s really great to have 2 guitar players playing rhythm, it’s really nice and so I don’t really miss right now.

CREMATORY also has an incredibly atmospheric sound, which on “Monument” took on an even more grandiose scope. What would you say is the key to creating an “epic-sounding” record and how was it achieved on the latest record?

Wow, that’s a tough question. You know…if you had the key for that then it would be easy (Laughs); you could create wonderful songs, or a monster song or a super hit. It’s trial and error really. It’s trying new stuff and listening to old stuff and figuring out what you like and what you don’t like, the elements that you prefer, which tempos you prefer, which tunings, which kinds of riffs. It’s very much a thing of the brain in the beginning and thinking: so where do we go now? It’s a thing of preparation and discussion, of deciding which direction you want to go, be it more guitar-driven or more atmospheric, and if you discuss it very well then it works, I think. But as for the key (laughs), I don’t know, it’s just about trying to bring it all together and be well prepared and seeing how it goes.

What did the record attempt to convey?

You know, there are two guitars players in the band now, and there was one point when the bass player left the band and we tried to play with one guitar. We rehearsed a couple of times and had the singer play bass, just for fun, and we felt that we really didn’t want to go back to having a one guitar group - it’s so much fun with two guitars, it’s so much more heavier, so much more powerful.  So that was the point when we all said: ok, on the next album you have to hear that there is some new guitar power, but without loosing all the rest of CREMATORY’s trademarks. So hearing all the guitar power on the next album was to be the big thing on “Monument”.

Being a producer do you find it hard to let someone handle those duties when recording an album?

No. I’ve done that very often for other people and I’ve played with other producers and it’s not a problem. It’s great; it might be better for me as a guitar player to just stand aside and just give my guitar ideas, play and have another producer do the rest, because he’s more objective. It’s all cool, I haven’t got a problem with that. As long as the producer knows what he’s doing, it’s perfect. (Laughs.)

Gothic Metal has very specific sonic properties, how do you think Crematory’s (sound) stands out from the rest of the bands in the genre and how does the band keep their sound fresh?

Well, they have been on the market for pretty much 26 years now, and they have created a unique sound, with really melodic hook lines, some really thrashy guitar riffs, low tunings, and these spacey keyboards behind it all. They have the clean singing and Felix who does the ruff, growling vocals, and I think that those four are the main things for CREMATORY; correct me if I’m wrong (Laughs).

What is the biggest misconception that one might have about the band?

(Pauses.) Wow…hmm…I don’t know… I think that Felix always says that there are a lot of detractors from a couple of magazines and some musicians who say that CREMATORY doesn’t maintain a consistent musical standard, which I don’t understand because right now the band is in a great mood and we’re really punchy together and we’ve got an influx of new fans and they see what we do now and like it. We have a good bass player now, two guitar players and it all sounds good, so I don’t know.

Does the band’s music reflect the real-life demeanours of the members, or are their personalities completely different beyond the music; i.e. are they the embodiment of their music?

That’s a tough question. I mean, everyone has been in this business for quite a long time, and most of them (except me) have other jobs – I’m a full time producer and guitar player – and everybody loves their job and they’re very honest - there are no rumours or anything, we go on stage and we do our thing.

And where do you see the band headed in the future?

Well, we’re working on the next album right now, which I think will be released think in the spring of 2018; I don’t want to talk about the concept of it, because we are working on it right now, so we’ll see. We’re still playing live, we’re doing a couple of shows and maybe, because the drummer’s children are getting bigger, we might play a little bit more, perhaps even do a little tour. Hopefully we can do this for as long as we can. We’re getting older, but a lot of other bands are older than us and they’re still around, so I don’t see any problem for the next ten years, to when we’re sixty, close to sixty; it should still be ok. I mean, SABBATH are doing it and they’re close to 70, or the STONES, or AC/DC, they’re in their mid-sixties/seventies and they’re still around. Take DEEP PURPLE, I saw them two months ago and Ian Gillan, who is 70, was fantastic for his age (laughs); I’d like to try to go out on the street and pick up other 70 year-olds and put them on the stage and see them do 2 hours. So the future is open.

So, in keeping with the theme of live music, what is the best band that you’ve ever seen play live?

(Pauses.) Hmm…there are a couple of things I’ve seen that were really great. I’m a big fan of Joe Bonamassa, and I’ve seen him twice, and he’s really nailing it for me. There is also duo that I’m not sure if you’ve heard of them - it’s a little bit more insider stuff - and they do like a Jazzy/Swing/Pop thing. It’s a couple and they’re called Tuck and Patti - she’s a black singer and he’s a white guitar player and I think they’re married. If you closer your eyes at one of their shows you’ll think that there are at least three guitar players on that stage. He’s so amazing. He plays percussion on the guitar, rhythm, soloing, and when I saw him live, and they played a ballad, I had tears in my eyes because it was so good. I read an interview where the guitar player was asked: “Hey man, I’ve seen your concert, why don’t you laugh on stage? And he answered him: “Man, have you seen what I play? We’ve spent a year preparing it, you can’t laugh. I’m fully concentrated playing that.” The stuff he plays is just criminal, it’s amazing. Check them out, Tuck and Patti. I think they do 200 plus shows a year. I’m also a big fan of Billie Joel, seen him live too. There are lots of good bands around.

Are you a fan of any new, younger bands?

Yep. I find SHINEDOWN to be really amazing, and I think that FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH are really amazing. If I listen to new stuff then that’s the kind of thing that I like.

Yeah, SHINEDOWN are great. Brent Smith has an amazing voice.

Yep, and what I love about them – I have two albums from them – is that the songwriting is of such a high standard - all over the record. If you go to number 7, it could be easily number 1 on the record, because the standard of the songwriting is so high, and yes, he’s a great singer.

Given your professional musical background, do you ever find it hard to connect with some songs on an emotional level because you start dissecting them on a technical level?

No, after you’ve gone through your Yngwie Malmsteen phase in life (chuckles) you go down and just combine the really important elements of music. You need technical skill, you need a good foundation for everything, but emotion is everything in any given song, it’s the most important thing, there’s a long list of other important things, but this is at the top of it.

Thank you for you time Rolf and good luck with the band.

Thank you.


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Edited 31 January 2023

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