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ASSASSIN – Shoot ’Em Down
Mike Exley
Metal Forces, Issue 23 (1987)

What would the historians think of thrash metal? It’s an interesting question isn’t it? A sea of bands all trying to make it to the ladder of success, all trying to take that step that takes them from the unknown to the back of denim and leather jackets everywhere. Many try but few make it; and then there are those who can see the ladder but face many dangers in reaching the first rung. Düsseldorf is just one pool in a great sea but already the area around it has a ladder full of bands with the number in the sea growing day by day.

Assassin are like any other band, in the sense that they worked hard through two demos, Holy Terror and The Saga Of Nemesis, but unlike many around them they have made the first rung, in the shape of a deal with Steamhammer / SPV and a debut album, The Upcoming Terror, which has arrived on the scene bringing with it some pretty strong promise.

Assassin was formed back in 1985, but already SPV are putting them forward as their candidates for success in 1987. Sitting through the album and one of their rehearsals on a recent German visit was a very pleasurable experience, so I cornered lead singer Robert Gonnella on some of the background to the upcoming terror.

So, how did the band get together? “Well actually I was the last to join the band. Dinko (Vekic; lead guitar), ‘Lulle’ (aka Markus Ludwig; bass) and ‘Danger’ (aka Psycho Danger; drums) formed the band back in the summer of 1985 and advertised for a second guitarist. ‘Scholli’ (aka Jürgen Scholz) answered the advert and then joined the band. I knew Dinko and he invited me to the rehearsal room to sing with the other guys and that was when we all realized that this would be the final line-up.”

What style of music influenced you? “Influences is a word I don’t like because we don’t really have any specific influences. The music that brought us together was thrash and all of us like bands like Slayer and Exodus, but we wanted to play technical metal with an ingredient of speed.”

As you’re a new band, have your influences changed? “We’re a new band but I don’t think our influences have changed. ‘Scholli’ and Dinko don’t buy a new album and say ‘we want to write our new material like that’. The band has its own style and its own ideas and I believe it’s important to try and do something a bit different when you are a new band.”

How did you come to work with Rudi Graf on you second demo, The Saga Of Nemesis? “That was really great. Rudi Graf is a good friend of the band and just after he left Warlock we approached him to produce the tape for us. Our first demo, Holy Terror, had sold quite well but it had suffered from a poor sound quality, so we asked Rudi to help us get a much better sound for the second demo. He introduced us to a guy who owned a small studio in Düsseldorf and soon we had recorded the second demo. Rudi taught us a lot and it was good experience for our debut album even though we were under a lot of pressure because time was short. Everything was very new to us but it came out really well. That four-track demo sold very well all over Europe and we had response from the USA and Japan as well.”

How did you get involved with SPV? “There had been quite a lot of interest in the band ever since we recorded Holy Terror, but it was not until we sent the tape to SPV that anything started to happen. There were a few problems at first because SPV has changed their address, but when we went back to them later in the year (1986) and they signed us straight away.”

They describe your music as thrashcore with heavy metal and hardcore ideas – so, would you agree with that? “This is a hard question because we’ve heard many definitions of our music. I wouldn’t agree that it’s hardcore, I think that idea probably comes from our lyrics rather than our musical style, but it’s certainly thrash, with a lot of power and technical ideas. I like to compare us to the ideas that bands like Destruction use with speed but also a lot of technical ideas.”

What influenced the title of the album? “At first we had a lot of problems with the title because we couldn’t think of a good title or a good cover. ‘Lulle’ had the idea of a burning city with a guy standing in front of it to go with the title ‘The Last Man’ which is our most technical song, but the cover was too expensive for SPV to produce and we didn’t really like the idea of that title. Then we tried to think of ideas to fit the concept to the track ‘Holy Terror’ which was one of our strongest tracks from the demos, but once again it was difficult to find a cover to suit. In the end SPV gave us this cover and we decided to change Holy Terror to The Upcoming Terror because it sounded more appropriate.”

Did that have anything to do with the lyrics? “Yes it did. Lyrics are very important to the band. I like to think that our lyrics are different from most thrash bands because we cover social topics and the reality of life. I know this may sound a little bit odd when I sing it with a hard voice but we’re trying to make a point with our music, and I think it works very well. ‘Holy Terror’ for example, is about anarchy and achieving anarchy by force. Each of our songs deals with a specific idea and ‘Holy Terror’ is about minorities fighting against the government. ‘Forbidden Reality’ is about people who don’t know what the real world is like and who can’t tell the difference between reality and imagination.”

A lot of bands seem to be coming out of this area (Düsseldorf, Essen etc) so what would you say to people who would say you’re just another Kreator or another Deathrow? “There are many bands from this area – Sadist, Aggressor for example – but there are few who have any chance of success because most of them are garbage. It’s really difficult to make an impact today because the market is full with poor bands like The Mentors. To be successful you have to have something which is different. I believe some magazines have already said that we are ‘yet another band from Düsseldorf’ but I don’t think they mean that in a negative way because we have never really been criticised for copying another band, because basically we stick to our own style. We don’t mind being compared to other bands like Slayer. In fact, we can be proud if someone says we play as well as them. But if someone says we copy Slayer or Kreator then I don’t like that because it’s just not true. We have our own ideas and our own style, not that of Kreator, Deathrow, Slayer or anyone else.”

Would you agree that you have something of a US sound? “I don’t know how to define a US or German metal sound? Really, I think the only main difference these days is the production, because US companies seem to put a lot more money into the production of their albums. Take Slayer for example, their production was excellent. This band is quite international because I’m one half American and two of the other guys have ties with Yugoslavia. Our music is powerful thrash metal, but it’s difficult to say whether it’s typically German because every band tries to have its own style wherever they come from.”

Where would you like to see Assassin going from here? “We have to be realistic, but I don’t really know? There’s a lot happening for us with small gigs around the country, but soon we will have to reorganise because our drummer, ‘Danger’, is leaving the band. This has made it difficult for us to plan ahead too far, but I hope that our small steps at this stage will mean good rewards in the future.”

What about follow-up material and promotion? “Well, at the moment we haven’t got any new material because we used up all our tracks on this album. We’ve just started writing new stuff so I hope we’ll have more material soon. As far as promotion goes, we hope to play gigs outside Germany soon – we’ve been offered a tour with Messiah in Switzerland and Agent Steel in Europe but with ‘Danger’ leaving the band we can’t really make any promises about when we’ll be playing live.”

Has the success of Deathrow given you any lead? “I suppose it has in a way, but Deathrow were very lucky. We’re great friends but even they admit that everything went right for them. I hope the same will happen to us of course, I want to play in the big halls, but we’ll take it a step at a time. What I am sad about for Deathrow is that Noise, unlike SPV with us, didn’t spend money to help the band. Look at the production, it was horrible. Deathrow are technically a good band but they didn’t really get a fair deal.”

Like Deathrow, will your album be getting released in America? “Yes, the US market is very important to us. We had a very good response to the demo from America so it is very important that the album goes over there; I think Metal Blade are taking it. Also important to us is Japan. I was over there recently and the reaction to our tape was very good, so I hope we can get a Japanese company to put the record out over there.”

So the reaction is very good so far? “Oh yes, we’re very pleased with it. All over Europe, in the US and in Japan there are a lot of people interested in the band. We’re really happy and we’d like to thank everyone for supporting us so far.”

Assassin are going to have some serious problems over the next months because there is always a lot to rebuild when a founding member leaves. A lot of people forget very quickly, but I hope this doesn’t happen with Assassin because they’ve got raw talent and a lot of energy which can be tapped into an excellent second album. The band must persevere and keep up their spirits because although Germany is known for its lack of very good drummers, I’m sure that the success of this album will bring the band to the attention of drummers from all over Europe. If you should find Assassin in your area go and check them out because you won’t be disappointed – faster than a speeding bullet.

Interview taken from Metal Forces, Issue 23 (1987)

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