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EXUMER – Burnt Offerings
Mike Exley
Metal Forces, Issue 23 (1987)

Exumer (l-r): Syke Bornetto, Ray Mensh, Bernie Siedler and Paul Arakaki

Germany is one of the hot beds of activity for new and upcoming bands in Europe. In fact, you could say it was “possessed by fire”, which is quite an appropriate way of introducing you to Germany’s latest success, Exumer.

On a recent visit to witness the band live in Belgium, I sat down with new bassist / vocalist Paul Arakaki and drummer Syke Bornetto to examine some of the ideas behind the powerful catchy riffs that were a vital ingredient in the sudden success of the band’s debut album, Possessed By Fire, released in December 1986 by Disaster Records. This involved quite a lot of hilarity because of the language problem and translation differences, but in the end Syke managed to get his points across.

So guys, let’s talk about the formation of the band. Syke: “The band was formed by Mem von Stein, our previous bass player, and our lead guitarist Ray Mensh in 1985. Paul was over from America at the time, living here, and he joined the band as a guitarist.”

So Paul does have a previous connection with the band after all? Paul: “Yes, I played guitar with the band for quite a while but then, unfortunately, I was forced to leave because of personal problems. I was very sad to go, but it was necessary at that time.”

Now, before the album came out I knew very little about the band, but I believe you did release a demo, A Mortal In Black? Syke: “Yes, that’s right, but I’m afraid it was never widely available because we got screwed up. The demo was called A Mortal In Black because that was one of our strongest songs. The early limited response to it was very good but it never got circulated because almost nobody received a tape.”

What exactly happened? Syke: “Well, as the message on the back of the album says, our old manager Ralf Ludwig cheated everybody. We got a lot of orders for the tape but he took all the money and never sent any tapes out.”

How did you sign to Disaster Records? Syke: “That was the result of a live show we did. Our current manager, Matthias Prill, knew Tommy Ziegler, the head of Disaster, so he invited the guy to the show. We brought Warfare over from England and we really played our hearts out; the offer came from that night.”

Did you receive offers from rival German companies like SPV or Noise? Syke: “Yes, we did receive some other offers, but I won’t say from who. We thought Disaster was better for us because we could be more individual if we were on a different label to all those bands who were getting signed by the two labels you mentioned.”

Syke is very diplomatic at this point isn’t he? Coming from Frankfurt have you noticed any problems of being outside the general metal scene which seems to be centering on the Dusseldorf / Essen area? Paul: “The scene is really big there, but I think being out of that area has helped us, especially with getting gig. We hear people from those places saying ‘When are Exumer coming?’. We’re an ‘out of town’ band and it has really helped us a lot.”

What’s your view of the scene around you? Syke: “The scene is very good in that it’s very active, but I think there are too many bad bands around and these don’t help the good ones at all. It’s easy for bands to get a deal for one album these days, I think any band can do it, but there are too many one album bands around instead of good bands who make enough impact to record two or three albums. That is dangerous. There are too many dumbos around who think they can just pick up a guitar and record an album. These bands soon get dropped because they don’t sell anything.”

You recently had a personal change as we’ve mentioned, but what actually caused Mem to leave? Syke: “Us! We caused him to leave! Mem was not professional. He thought that he ran the band and that everybody would do what he wanted. He wanted to use only his own ideas and he wasn’t that good a musician. We really hated his attitude, so we kicked him out!”

I believe you had some problems with his replacement before Paul joined up again? Paul: “They had a lot of problems, because obviously Mem was not only the singer but also the bassist. There are few people in Germany who can do this well, so I jumped at the chance when I heard that Mem had left. Even while I was out of the band I’d always kept in touch with all the guys. When Mem left it was the perfect opportunity for me, because I had not been playing in a band since I left the group.”
I had heard that an American was rumoured to be linked with the band. Has it caused any problems having an American fronting a German band? Paul: “It hasn’t caused too many problems because I already knew all the guys, but I think some of our fans are a little bit surprised when I speak. I think this has done a lot of good for the band because it’s made us more of an international band, not just ‘another German thrash band’. It’s like the fans really take more interest in us because we’re different.”

Did Mem’s departure give you any problems on the writing side? Syke: “No, not really. We’re finding that we’re playing a little bit differently and writing a bit differently now, but that is because now we can all use our own ideas. Mem didn’t really listen to other people’s ideas on the album and we had to compromise to his decisions to finish it, but now we’re finding that we write a lot better. We only have one named completed song so far (‘Winds Of Death’), but it’s a lot better even than any of the material on the album.”

Has your style changed at all? Syke: “No, not really. The new songs are harder and more aggressive which is how we intend to progress on our future material, but it’s still the same basic style of rhythm and lead with Paul playing.”

How far off is new material? Syke: “As I said, we only have one named song at the moment and another one without a title, so I can’t really say, but we should be ready to record and release our second album (Rising From The Sea) at the end of the summer.”

What has the reaction been like to Possessed By Fire? Paul: “It’s been really good. Our manager has files full of letters from all over the place: Brazil, Chile and the USA. He’s one busy guy!”

At this point manager Matthias Prill points out that he has received almost no letters from Holland. Syke: “That seems very strange to us. I think we received one or two letters.”

Come on Holland, get your act together. Is the album likely to be released outside Europe? Syke: “We hope so sometime. Matthias, our manager, was in America a while ago trying to get a distribution deal, but none was really suitable. I don’t want to mention any names but hopefully we can get it released over there.”

Exumer 1986 (l-r): Paul Arakaki, Ray Mensh, Syke Bornetto and Bernie Siedler

As a new band, how did you get Harris Johns to produce your album? Syke: “Harris and Tommy Ziegler worked together for many years when they used to bring out punk music on Disaster. They are very good friends and Tommy knows Matthias, so he suggested Harris to us. We’re pleased with the production because it’s really good for our style.”

Would you agree he gave you something of a US sound? Syke: “Yes, I think so. A lot of German bands aren’t really raunchy enough, and we told Harris that we wanted a dirty guitar sound. This is also part of the US sound that the band likes listening to.”

Now, some people have put your musical style close to Exodus, maybe too close in some circumstances, so how would you react? Paul: “It’s not just Exodus they talk about you know, it’s Nasty Savage, Slayer etc, etc. How would I react? Well, it’s not like a copycat thing; you can’t say that we put on a record and say ‘we’ll change this around and play it like this’. I think a lot of people overdo this charge of bands copying other bands. We listen to a lot of stuff and I can guarantee that on any album you could say ‘that sounds a bit like Slayer or Metallica or Exodus’. Maybe a few of our riffs are written in the same style as Exodus, but it doesn’t mean to say Exodus wrote them and we played them does it. Ray loves Exodus, especially Bonded By Blood (1985), but that doesn’t mean Exumer are Exodus. We are trying to do what we want just like anybody else, and I hope everyone understands that!”

That’s certainly a very valid point, but I’m sure it won’t stop all the criticism. Exumer certainly don’t let it affect them on record. Their style has made them a very rapid success, and live it’s just starting to have an effect. Although the sound at the Metalysee show was poor, they played a really excellent set. I had the feeling that some of the crowd were bewildered by Paul’s raps, but the slamming continued unabated. Now and again we see a band that really launches its career with a tremendous start – Death Row comes to mind – but I think Exumer have a little bit more class than Death Row, so I wish them luck. What made me laugh was that comment about Holland. Very strange, I thought they were partial to a bit of thrashing over there?!

Interview taken from Metal Forces, Issue 23 (1987)

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