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Them's Troy Norr: "Overall the story has an underlying tone. Don’t judge a book by its cover. KK isn’t an evil man but isn’t exactly pure either… Consider him an anti-hero or like a vigilante of sorts…"

Interview with Troy Norr & Markus Ullrich from Them
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 12 October 2020, 1:51 PM

And the story ends, or is it? Not every time there is a correlation between the last piece of the puzzle to a final swing of the story. It can be the end of the road for one and a beginning for another. Wrapping up the saga surrounding our KK, the German / American articulate band, Them, unleashed their last chapter of their story, with “Return to Hemmersmoor”, which is where the final showdown is expected to take place. However, the means to an end, and the entire experience, take a different kind of turn. Steinmetal had the honors to talk to vocalist Troy Norr and guitarist, Markus Ullrich, regarding this fine creation of horrific tale, the musical diversity of the new album and more…

Hello guys, it is an immense pleasure to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been coping with the situation going on worldwide at the moment?

Troy: Thank you very much for having us! For me I am doing what I can do during the pandemic but in NY there are some things still locked down. As for music, this is the best time to write new music for any band, hopefully a ton of new albums pop up next year!

Markus: It seems everything looks a little bit better of here, but it’s still a weird time. No gigs, nothing. Troy is right, the perfect time for songwriting.

Since each of you is in different part of the world, with you Troy in the US and you Markus in Germany, it is hard to really pinpoint a direct question of how is your surroundings react to the pandemic, yet it would be great to know from each of you where do you think we are headed with all this? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Do people truly understand that this is not some kind of hoax?

Troy: Being from one of the most locked down states in the USA, I have mixed feelings. Right now Florida is fully open (Must wear masks in public) but NY is not. Being opened or locked down is determined by the individual governors of each state. Yes, I believe the virus is real. Yes, many have died. Does NY still need to have travel restrictions? Does movie theaters need to still be closed? I could drive 2 hours to another state and go to a movie theater but not in NY. Makes zero sense to me. If people would just take precautions, maybe we can get our lives back to normal! Personally I do not see an end in the near future. I feel we will live with some sort of lockdown for another 1 to 2 years. I hope I am wrong.

Markus: I think Troy is right. The problem is that nobody ever had to deal with shit like that. Almost everybody is an expert right now and yet they still know nothing. Some restrictions make sense, some probably don’t. Even the governments look like helpless children. There’s no experience, it’s like throwing darts while you’re blindfolded.

Coming to the close of the trilogy, which began four years ago with “Sweet Hollow”, Them returns with a supposedly final blow to the story, “Return to Hemmersmoor”, closing the circle so to speak. Was it pre-planned to end the story with this chapter or will there be a surprise later on with some kind of resurrection?

Troy: Yes, "Return to Hemmersmoor" has a definite ending, but so does "Manor of the Se7en Gables" and "Sweet Holllow", eh? The Story of "Return To Hemmersmoor" was definitely pre-planned quite some time ago. A resurrection? Surprises? That all sounds great! You will just have to wait to see if the end is actually THE END!

What was the idea to close the circle for the protagonist back in Germany, after the venture in “Se7en Gables” manor?


Troy: Yes, It was predetermined that the protagonist must die before "Manor of the Se7en Gables" was written.

So evidently, as it seems, the revenge that was underway didn’t really take place, even though there was an intention. KK was freed from the witch hunter, which never stopped pursuing him, and eventually, KK was cheated when he attempted to revive his dead daughter. So I guess that our hero was doomed to fail right from the start of this chapter?

Troy: KK had every intention of killing Peter Thompson if their paths ever crossed again. After KK was freed from the clutches of Peter Thompson by Remsen, they both flee (with the body of Mary Hawthorne – exhumed by Remsen during “Back In The Garden Where Death Sleeps”  7” single) to Hemmersmoor to perform the resurrection of KK’s deceased child, Miranda König, into the body of Mary Hawthorne. This took place in a field outside the town of Hemmersmoor known as "The Field of Immortality". The resurrection was a success! Thompson and his crew arrived on the scene at the conclusion of the ceremony and it is Miranda that kills Thompson by ripping his heart out. So yes, KK was cheated but Thompson’s closure is so much more fitting since it was he who executed KK’s wife (Elissa) and daughter (Miranda) during the Hemmersmoor witch trial back in the beginning of the album “Sweet Hollow”.

The reason I said “Supposedly” on a previous question was because I felt, right there at the end, featured on “Finis”, that a new beginning may be right there on the horizon, with KK’s words, “…Remsen, Remember Your Bloodline”, along with the notion, at least mine’s, that KK didn’t really die at end or by his consumed dead daughter or by the witch hunter. Troy, what is your comment about that? How do you see it?

Troy: That is a very interesting interpretation. I like it. In "Maestro’s Last Stand", it is revealed that Miranda’s spirit isn’t occupying Mary’s body. In fact, it is the evil spirit called the Crimson Corpse which KK expelled from Mary Hawthorne at the end of the album “Sweet Hollow”. Without KK being able to react, The Crimson Corpse (In Human form) pulls KK into the earth with no sign of KK returning. KK’s last words are to Remsen “Don’t forget your bloodline!”…What does that mean? KK is gone; Remsen is alone to figure that out. The final track “Finis” is an outro designed to let the listener hear the voices in KK’s head as he is dying. Yes, KK dies. The voices of Remsen, Peter Thompson, Sarah the Scullery Maid and The Crimson Corpse (Disguised as Miranda König) mocking him, begging him to return. New beginnings are always great. But will there be? We will all have to wait and see…

Even though you consider it as a horror story, without any real moral or message to convey to others, plainly showing that evil can remain, and not outlast good, perhaps it is possible to argue that sometimes good is not really that good and evil actually has the ability to set the balance?

Troy: That is correct. Overall the story has an underlying tone. Don’t judge a book by its cover. KK isn’t an evil man but isn’t exactly pure either. Sometimes he does bad things for a good outcome. Consider him an anti-hero or like a vigilante of sorts. There always needs balance in a story and in the music.

In comparison to the previous two albums, I sensed that “Return to Hemmersmoor” is rather technical and aggressive in its musical approach, crossing borders in a way, establishing the band a stronger front. Markus, how do you view this progress in the band’s music?

Markus: When we wrote the first album there actually was no real plan. Hell, there was not even a band! Things changed and being on the road at a very early stage was really important. Suddenly there was a band with members that had similar musical influences and aims. Since we all love the earlier, technical Thrash Metal it was kind of obvious that "Manor of the Se7en Gables" turned out to be much heavier than the debut. It was exactly what we wanted. A lot of people probably thought that “Return to Hemmersmoor” would be a step back, but we liked the idea to write even heavier, faster and darker material. It’s also nice that, whatever you write, you know exactly that all the members are good enough to play it and bring the songs to a new level.

I believe that with “Return to Hemmersmoor”, Them started to create its own sphere of music and influence, slowly leaving the aura of King Diamond. Well, there is the horror element that still shares similarities, yet on the musical end, can you say that you started something fresh?

MU: Musically speaking, the aura KD to me never existed. Yes, there’s the band name, there’s the horror story and there’s Troy who is able to do the high pitched vocals and everything. He used that voice on the debut, but when it comes to the vocal lines or the music I never really thought it had anything to do with KD. You’re still right, even the small hints became less. I did a lot of interviews within the last few weeks and nobody really compared anything that’s on the new album with KD. The only people who still do that are the invisible keyboard warriors who just like to bash on things when they’re anonymous and write some shit on Facebook or YouTube. I couldn’t care less, to be honest. Any press is good press :D

One of the major aspects of this album, stating a vocalist, is the vocal orchestrations. I felt that the attention provided to the vocals was even more substantial than in the past. Troy, how do you view the process of cementing the vocals on this album, in particular the backing vocals and multiple channels?

Troy: The process for creating/recording the vocals is not different on this album than the previous 2. Every song starts with a vocal pattern. That pattern could be spoken or sung. If sung, sung high, sung low, sung aggressive or sung not aggressive needs to be determined via scat singing/verbalizing. Once a main vocal pattern has been determined, vocal harmonies (if needed) are then added. Lyrics are then written and then some tweaking may occur before recording.

Would you say were the main challenges while creating this album? What kind of influences guided solutions to issues that came around throughout the songwriting and recording processes?

Troy: For me the biggest challenge during the creation of this album was recording my vocals. I recorded my parts with Joe Cincotta (Suffocation, Obituary) during the height of the pandemic. It was a very challenging and secretive process.

Markus: The recording process was similar since I always record in my little home studio. Alex also recorded his bass lines here and we kept social distancing, that’s all. The songwriting process also wasn’t that different. I probably put more pressure on myself and threw away all ideas that didn’t really work for a certain song. There’s at least 50 min. of different verses or choruses that were pretty good but didn’t feel right.

One of the album’s main singles, “Free”, saw you guys putting out a to be rendered as a classic track. Combining enchanting melodies along with the complex attributes that lead the album, this is one of the best examples of how contemporary Heavy Metal should sound like. What is your take on this track?

Markus: The idea was to write a song that kind of continues the vibe of "Dead of Night" or "Witchfinder". We called it “the single” simply because it was a little bit softer and sounded like a hit even before the vocals were added. The funny thing is that when our label asked us what we would prefer as a first single we didn’t mention "Free". I wrote an email with “we don’t care, you decide”. Now you know what their decision was.

Troy: Personally, I love this track. THEM consists of talented musicians and it is always a pleasure to do something different. Some listeners may not understand this direction but they should listen to the rest of the album as a whole. No, THEM will not go soft but does everything always have to be so heavy? In the context of the story (mood wise) this song makes sense if you are listening to the entire album. It is at this moment that KK and Remsen truly experience a sense of freedom during the three albums. Too bad it is short lived.

Turning into a true Bay Area Thrash Metal monster, there are “Hellhounds: The Harbingers Of Death” and the continued effort on “Battle Blood”. Is this kind of aggression, which is bridging between Exodus and Testament, to be featured as part of the upcoming Them creations?

Troy: I can’t speak for Markus or the other members but being heavier or trashier is never a bad thing. Considering several members originate from thrash/death metal it would only be a natural evolution.

Markus: Sounds good to me. Fast and heavy riffing for me feels just natural and the same goes for our other guitar player MJ. Usually the singer always prefers the soft songs on the album. THEM is a different band. Our singer is a thrash guy…well…

“Maestro’s Last Stand”, other than being a conjuring of elements of the entire story, sounded to me like the dangerous meeting of the spirits guiding the album, melodies, vocal mastery and meaty riffs. Along with the dramatic aspects of the song, how do you find this special cohesion as the final shot of glory?

Troy: Maestro was designed as a clever way to return to what once what was started on "Sweet Hollow"’s first track “Forever Burns”. The verses of "Maestro’s Last Stand" are very similar with lyrics and vocal execution. Thematically, KK is explaining to Miranda what happened during the Hemmersmoor Witch Trials, a sort of a round robin effect in finalizing this segment.

Markus: When I wrote the music for Maestro I knew that it would be the last song on the album and I wanted to have “something from everything” in it. I always thought of it as a 10 minute epic that clocks in at 5 minutes but has all the parts that an epic track needs.

I wrote almost 10 different choruses and wasn’t satisfied until I had the one you now hear on the album. I knew it would be extremely difficult to come up with a hook line for that weird structure and I’m still overwhelmed when I listen to the finished version. I think this song is one of the best vocal deliveries Troy ever did.

Have you started thinking about the next epos, perhaps raised ideas of where to settle yourself for a next saga?

Troy: Ask Markus! He already teased me with a snap shot of his phone showing all new riffs! Lol. Music is always first. I am excited to see what will happen! Pass the popcorn!

Markus: I have to finish that damn new Septagon record and then I need some rest. Troy is right. There’s some weird murmur plus some sloppy licks on my smartphone and it’s possible that they eventually become songs. We’ll find out…

Trying to be positive in regards to 2021, have you made any plans ahead in terms of performing live?

Markus: Absolutely no plans, just hopes. I can’t wait to enter the stage again.

Troy: No plans on this end. I am waiting like a panther in high grass. Waiting to start preparing for live mode!

Guys, I wish to thank you for this interview and for your time. No doubt that this final seal of the story is like coming out with a bang. All the best and I expect more wonders coming out of you.

Troy: Thanks again! Looking forward to talk again in the future!

Markus: Thank you so much, always a pleasure!


 



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