Paul Speckmann – The mastermind behind Death Strike, Master, Abomination, etc.
Interview by Luxi Lahtinen
Paul Speckmann is one of those incarnations of everything heavy, brutal and metal that many have considered as a true inspirations and influence when starting their own band. Paul is mainly known for his bands Death Strike, Abomination and especially Master. He has received a lot of credit from musicians around the globe,from such bands as Terrorizer, Napalm Death, Obituary, Entombed, etc., for being a huge influence for all these bands back in the day. His impact on the whole death metal scene is unquestionable.
Having recorded 9 studio albums with Master in his career so far, the band´s latest album, SLAVES TO SOCIETY, contains 11 songs of classic Master material. Paul´s well distinctive, death grunts are one of the trademarks of Master´s sound – so is the fast, uncompromising, heavy and to-the-point approach style, which is actually easy to love. It even could sincerely be said that Master is like a rolling stone that just never becomes covered with moss. It has only gotten better over the years, which SLAVES TO SOCIETY so clearly proves for being a real nutt-kicking effort from them.
In talking with one of the true icons of the death metal, Paul was very keen on telling us about his latest ´baby´ SLAVES TO SOCIETY, his move from his birthplace Chicago, Illinois to his current home country the Czech Republic, problems about finding their latest album in music stores from Czech Republic – as well as naturally anything related to his past bands from War Cry to now Chech-based Master, that is also activated touring-wise.
Now let´s call our favorite beast in, and let him continue telling the story…
SLAVES TO SOCIETY
Let´s talk about some current topics of Master at first. Master´s 9th studio album, titled SLAVES TO SOCIETY, has now been released in the American territory also – via Ibex Moon Records that is owned by the Incantation mastermind John McEntee. Can you tell why it took about a year to get it released in the States?
This is a rather interesting question to begin with. I signed to a distributor in Germany called Twilight several years ago in hopes of getting the latest CD distributed worldwide and this was clearly not the case in the end. Many labels make broken promises in the end. I admit that they are one of the biggest distributors in Germany alongside Nuclear Blast, but that’s really about it. I don’t even have distribution in the country I now live in. It’s a bit silly living in the Czech Republic and you cannot even find the CD in the shops. In the beginning Twilight was very helpful and worked really well with Master, but over the last several years they have signed hundreds of groups and Master has fallen by the wayside. The same happened in the past with Nuclear Blast. With the re-release of the CD in the States, new doors have opened and we will be touring in July of 2009. This will be the second tour since this years excursion. John is really supporting Master in a big way and I certainly appreciate the help over there.
How high would you personally rank SLAVES TO SOCIETY in the Master album catalogue? Many people who have heard it, have said this album sounds like classic Master: It´s heavy, it´s rough, it´s old-school, back-to-the-roots death metal – it really sounds like Master should sound like in the first place. Obviously it goes even without saying it that you must feel very happy and pleased with this outcome, don´t you?
Of course, I am very pleased with the success of SLAVES TO SOCIETY in America. The last tour a month or so ago was quite successful and it was cool to see old friends, family and just decent crowds in general. The CD is the best release we have put out in many years, although FOUR MORE YEARS OF TERROR and THE SPIRIT OF THE WEST are also killer releases. The problem again is that the availability of the last two CDs before SLAVES was next to nothing in North America. Ibex Moon will probably re-release the other CDs as well in due time.
I have to say that I put one hundred percent into every CD I create, only some have better production, better promotion, etc than others. I am truly underground and sometimes it’s hard to find support from decent labels.
How long did it actually take from you to get all these songs together for SLAVES TO SOCIETY? What´s the oldest- and newest song on it?
The songs were all written over the period of a few weeks. I mean, I normally record riffs on a micro-cassette recorder over a year and then when it is time I try and organize the riffs. I will say that the last two tracks were written a few days before the recording. The songs "Cheater" and "The Last Chapter" were literally put together in the last two practices in hopes of getting a good take on these. In the end they are some of my favorite tracks, so it worked out. Sometimes songs just don’t make completion in time for an album. "Slaves to Society", "The Darkest Age" and "The Final Skull" were the first tracks we rehearsed. Pradlovsky lives in Prag, which is about 300 kilometers away from the guitarist and I, so we rarely practice these days. When it’s time to record an album, we rehearse for one week and enter the studio the following day. The drums and bass on SLAVES TO SOCIETY were recorded completely in six hours. The guitars normally take several days, as I am quite the drill sergeant when it comes to the guitar.
As for the cover of SLAVES TO SOCIETY goes, it´s actually quite simple after all. There´s this one chick on the cover who obviously sucks a dick of some alien-monster-demon in it (while at the same time this gruesome monster seems to be slashing this chick with a sword), so didn´t you face any censorship problems with the actual album cover?
They said this cover would be a problem in Europe, and in American John put a slipcase over the actual CD, but I cannot understand why. You can go to any petrol station over here or 7-Eleven over in the States and buy pornography if you’re into this. This is a part of your freedom, is it not?
Your last 2 full-length studio albums have been put out on a German label Twilight-Vertrieb. What made you to sign a record deal with them eventually – out of possibly all other offers you received from some labels back in the day? Have you been happy how things have evolved with them thus far, feeling like they have done everything for the band you have asked them to do – and perhaps more even?
Offers are hard to come by these days and since I had known the label owner Thomas from a previous tour with Krabathor and Master, I jumped on this chance thinking this was a great offer working with a friend. In the end it’s not really a good idea to work with friends. As I said previously they mean well and certainly try to do their best, but Twilight is just too big these days. I really hope that a label that would focus more on promotion would sign us in Europe. I have said over and over if someone would give Master a 100 percent push, they would make a ton of money, but this is not the case. Nuclear Blast supported Master in the beginning and made a shit load of cash and re-invested in many newer acts, and today they are a superpower in metal on this side of the ocean. They also would like to forget about Master of course, but are trying to continually re-release stuff from me illegally, but this is the nature of the business I suppose.
Master also released the 1st three albums on Nuclear Blast Records. I´m kinda curious to know myself what happened between Nuke and Master after your 3rd album, COLLECTION OF SOULS, was released on this label in 1993? Did they just kick you out from their label because they weren´t as happy with the selling of that album as they hoped it could sell – or did you just run into some unsolved issues with them, and simply decided to not continue doing albums with them any more?
No, you are correct in the first part of your question, they just weren’t satisfied with the COLLECTION OF SOULS album. They thought it was too experimental. I personally like it and it will be re-issued on Displeased in March of 2009. I am certain it will sell many copies as the other re-releases are continually doing year after year. You cannot live with yourself producing the same record over and over. I realize that this is a lucrative business for the bigger bands and the gullible fans, but I will have no part of this. I believe in the music as an art form and you have to try different approaches like any artist will do. If it were only about money, I would have given up long ago! It is a quite amusing fact that I have sign hundreds of copies of the COLLECTION OF SOULS album from Europe to South America!
Nuclear Blast Records also released an album with you that went under the SPECKMANN PROJECT moniker – featuring re-recorded songs from Master, Death Strike and Funeral Bitch. What was the main purpose to release this type of collection of the results of your sharp songwriting pencil?
This was to be the first Master release on Nuclear Blast after label owner Markus decided he didn’t like the original Master recording from the original Master line-up that was recorded and mixed in Chicago at Solid Sounds in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. So the boss offered to send the new line-up consisting of Jim Martinelli (Burnt Offering) and Nickeas from Abomination to Morrissound to re-record the album and of course I wrote a few new tracks for this, and also I thought it was silly to only record the same tracks in the same versions a second time. So some were also re-written. Drummer Aaron Nickeas decided that he would pay Scott Burns and extra 5000 dollars of his own money to trigger the drums and in the end the drums sound like an inhuman drum machine. So much for that asshole Burns. He was only about money and nothing else. No doubt he recorded a few masterpieces, but that’s about it. In the end every band began to sound like one another at this studio with Burns at the helm, and he fell from grace.
Nuclear Blast received the new Master recordings and this time said they were too polished and too pretty, so they decided to send the original Chicago mix from Mittelbrun, Schmidt and myself to Burns and have him trigger the drums and remix the original recording from Chicago. Burns forgot some solos and other parts and told me it was too late, in other words he was paid and didn’t give a fuck. So the re-issue on Displeased earlier this year included the original mixes and the parts Burns forgot minus the triggers. After spending a great deal of money on the second recording, I felt it would be a pity not to release it, so it was released as the Speckmann Project.
Do you think that the European people have always appreciated Master more than the American people? I mean, at least a big part of your albums have been released on European labels anyway…
Yes, in America people would rather support copy-cats then the original thing. There is no doubt that many Master clones have had success in the past and some still reign supreme today, but can they honestly go to bed thinking they created anything original? I certainly can sleep fine at night. It seems that the newest trends in the states influence the whole world’s music scene. For example you would laugh your ass off seeing these white Germans as well as Czechs rapping like the brothers back home in the states. It’s really silly and pitiful to watch this on music television and the gullible youth that are searching for an identity support this crap, sorry rap.
The Europeans have been supporting Master for years since the first tour in 1990 I have been readily accepted. Even in the beginning the demos made there way to Europe. Just ask the fellows from Napalm Death, Carcass, Entombed, Dismember, Benediction and this list goes on, if they ever got a copy of the demo from Deathstrike or Master in the early days. I still meet bands like Extreme Noise Terror that tell me the stories about how they received a copy of the first demos from Mick Harris of Napalm Death. It just makes you realize how small the world is. It at least makes me content to know that I was a part of the original inception of the genre. It’s cool to run into old acquaintances like Terry Butler from Six Feet Under and Kam Lee from Massacre and listen to them telling stories about the beginnings of the band Death. Terry informed me that on the first US tour with Death he played a song I wrote called "The Truth", which is quite interesting as I read an interview with Chuckie years before his unexpected and tragic passing, and in this interview, he said he never heard of Paul Speckmann before. People like to forget their heroes, not I. I certainly am grateful for the thanks he gave me on the first Death album anyway.
I am the first to admit that the influences for Master and Deathstrike clearly came from bands like Discharge, The Exploited, GBH, Motörhead and Sabbath. This is heard in the music for certain.
"Our first demo DEATH BY METAL was taped in January 1984, and at that time I never heard of the name Paul Speckmann. It’s just one of those people who can’t deal with the fact they haven’t accomplished a thing in their musical career. When he thinks that he influenced me and it makes him feel better, then just let him. The case is, I was influenced by Venom back then. Besides, Venom and Black Sabbath are the main bands responsible for the death metal scene and not one of those mediocre bands, merely following, that claim to have been playing death metal from the cradle!" (Written by: Frank Albrecht, published: December 1991 Rock Hard Magazine Germany)
Paul with Death Strike back in the day
THE CHICAGO METAL SCENE BACK IN THE DAY
Master originally comes from Chicago. How was the metal scene in Chicago back then when you started this band sometime around in 1983? Did people really understand the type of music you were doing in your area at that time?
No, they were still into old heavy metal at this time, but they learned about this aggressive style in due time. But many new bands popped up around this time like Devastation, Terminal Death and Macabre – and Chicago began to take over. Shortly afterward the Florida scene came onto the map with a vengeance.
Another band that comes to my mind from the Chicago scene at those days, is Terminal Death that released just one demo called FACES OF DEATH in 1985 – and very much like Death Strike, they were also one of these so-called ´pre-death metal´. Bands at that time that sounded vast heavier and more brutal than so many other bands back then. How well did you know those guys in Terminal Death when you had Death Strike making some fuckin´ noize around in 1985?
These newer bands were coming to Master and Deathstrike practice and learning how to incorporate punk and metal styles into their music from us. Call it inspiration.
DEATH STRIKE WILL STRIKE BACK AGAIN IN 2010
Before Master, you had a tad heavier band going on – named Death Strike, which recorded now a very legendary 4-song demo titled FUCKIN´ DEATH, gaining heaploads of glorifying status for the band in the underground scene in those days. This demo was also officially released in 1991 by Nuclear Blast Records, with 4 new Death Strike songs. What do you think of that particular release in question nowadays, now after 17 years since it was released? Do you think that album has stood well the test of time, and have you just ever been thinking that it could be a cool idea to dig this band up from its cold grave and play a few shows with Death Strike again for the good ´n´ old times´ sake, for example?
Great question brother! Yes – of course this CD stands the test of time. Today all the bands are so concerned with being technical that they lost the direction. Anger must be felt is this style and Death Strike certainly captured the feelings we had in those days. Tracks like "Pay to Die" and "The Truth" were about my father and the way my friends were living in society at this time. Let’s face it not much has really changed in my eyes since those early days and the inspiration is still there to write angry music in the world today. It’s funny you should ask about Death Strike. Mittelbrun visited me in Chicago at a Master show recently at a packed house called the Elbo Room in the city, and we were discussing exactly this. He and I will soon get together and record some tracks that he and I have written over the years. Death Strike will tour in 2010. I hope people will come out to see Mittelbrun and I playing the classics along with some newer classics.
There´s 8 songs on the FUCKIN´ DEATH album. How many Death Strike songs did you do with Death Strike altogether, and could there still be a possibility for a CD/LP release of unreleased Death Strike songs?
Troy Dixler from Devastation (later becoming better known for his later era incarnation in Chicago-based death/thrash metallers Sindrome) taped one 15-minute long rehearsal of Death Strike back in the day, which he also was hugely circulated around the worldwide tapetrading scene. As he circulated that rehearsal tape so widely around back in the day (and even without your permission), do you still feel like owing him one for making Death Strike so known and cult-ish act in the underground tapetrading scene back in the day?
You can look at this two ways. In one way yes, it was helpful in putting Master and Deathstrike on the map, but on the other hand the bands were copied and ripped off by many other acts in the end.
Paul with War Cry
Even before Death Strike, you made a short stint in a Chicago-based metal band called War Cry that was offered a deal for Metal Blade Records by Brian Slagel. You left them in ´84, and formed Death Strike. What went wrong with them actually?
Schmidt was fired from the band War Cry recently at this time and he and I wanted to get into a heavier direction after discovering the Venom seven-inch. Master was formed, but fell apart before we ever recorded anything. We could never seem to find the proper guitarist, then in the fall of 1984 I found Mittlebrun through an ad in the newspaper and he and I hooked up. It’s funny because he had auditioned for Master earlier in the year, but just didn’t cut the mustard so to speak. He was still into Judas Priest and the Maiden style. We were looking for more aggressive playing. But, by the time I called the ad he had figured out what he wanted and Death Strike began. Death Strike was a short-lived project. We managed to record a demo worth of songs and split up when Schmidt begged and pleaded with us to jam with the two of us. This was the biggest mistake of my career. Things were going fine without that asshole.
Master was reformed on July 4th 1985 and went to the studio shortly afterward to record the legendary demos that influenced the generations to come. Death Strike never played a concert!
Alongside with Master, you were also doing a more thrash-orientated band called Abomination, and have now got 3 studio albums released with this band. How easy, or difficult was it for you to keep two active bands going on at that time. I mean, you were constantly writing songs for both bands in the early nineties, so wasn´t it sometimes hard to decide whether this or that song was meant either for Master or Abomination?
When Abomination was working, touring and recording Master was finished. I was only writing for Abomination during ´87 and ´88. Master was reformed again only for the purpose of recording the album in 1989 shortly after we recorded the Abomination debut. The same childish bullshit surfaced with Schmidt the day after the recording was finished and I moved on and hired Martinelli and Nickeas for the Fleische Tour in Europe after the releases of both CDs in Europe. I wrote ON THE 7TH DAY GOD CREATED… MASTER after this in 1991 during which Martinelli got wasted and was consequently sent from the studio in Florida and Masvidal filled in.
ABOMINATION IS DEAD – LONG LIVE MASTER
What´s Abomination´s status at the moment? Is it on hold ´til things for Master will calm down a little bit, or have you thought of keeping Abomination on ice for quite some time?
Abomination is completely finished. I don’t have time for more than one band anymore. Master plays 100 or so shows every year, so this takes up a lot of my time. I also travel on the road with different groups every year as a merchandiser mostly. The good thing about this is that it keeps me in the scene and involved in the underground.
What kinds of things have made it possible for you to keep Master going on for so long from your point of view?
The best thing I ever did was leave the USA and gather up Czech and Slovak musicians. These are the first really serious musicians I have found in years and aren’t only concerned with the money. Ever since the move to Europe I have been busy regularly every year. Also joining the company called Kraft Evention 6 years ago has helped in a big way. We do tours with underground legends only like Vital Remains, Ill Disposed, Obituary, Dismember and Dissection for example before Jon’s suicide for Satan.
Dedication is the secret. Believing in ones self is the only way. I still enjoy the buzz I get when I take the stage and people are shouting out the names of the old and newer tracks.
Do you think death metal is still as honestly angry and violent as it used to be back in the day, or do you rather think that death metal is still angry and violent – yes, but it has somehow become ´less angry´ and ´less violent´ because telling stories about gory zombies (as many death metal bands do nowadays) isn´t nearly as scary or gruel than singing about some realistic topics such as child abuse or religious suicide bombers or global warming, etc.?
I think it has changed quite a bit over the years, but I am still creating the same style of music I always have. As for the newer versions, I am neither judge nor jury. If they believe in what their doing and put their heart and soul into it, then it must be good. I personally enjoy more realistic music that deals with the issues and problems that mankind faces on the broader scale, but to each his own.
Many current death metal bands (Cannibal Corpse, Napalm Death, Exhumed, Entombed, etc.) list Master as one of their main inspirations and influences since they started, so obviously you must feel pretty darn special with Master that has given a good start-up kick to the asses of many extreme bands of today, don´t you?
I suppose this must be considered and honor and it’s cool but it doesn’t pay the bills. I have to go out and work and play to survive, but it is cool knowing that we are part of the inception of the genre and this cool I guess. These bands you speak of, of course have made it in their own way and I certainly appreciate the support from their kind words about Master.
"NEW BANDS ARE CLONES OF THE PAST GREATS"
Is there – or are there some band (-s) these days that you admire and honor for sounding like disciples of Master – having all this understanding how to sound heavy, raw, brutal and back-to-the-roots, the same way like Master have always sounded like?
Not really, but I was really enthusiastic on the tour of the reformed Massacre and the other band Denial Fiend featuring Kam Lee and Terry Butler along with Beeson from Nasty Savage certainly kicked some fucking ass every night. Dissection certainly ruled the stage for the twelve days that I was privileged to witness them on that nightly basis. I spent seveal months on tour twice with Vital Remains as well. I really haven’t seen many new acts that impress me I am sorry to say, nothing new and original has come around for a long time. The bands these days are clones of the past greats.
You have been living in Czech Republic for many years already. Was it easy to pack your things and move to another country in which the entire culture and society overall is very different compared to your previous home country?
Of course, a true musician travels where the work is. After the offer from Czech legends Krabathor I was in a hurry to get back to work. Nothing was happening in the USA for me and it has always been difficult to find serious musicians in the States. Drugs and alcohol are often a problem. My life greatly improved after leaving the last God forsaken country. Bush actually just came into power when I was leaving and America has paid a severe price for electing that idiot. He and his fellow geriatric patients are only concerned with their ´war on terror´ and collecting and regulating oil prices. Do you think Bush will live happily ever after, I do.
What kind of things do your appreciate in your current home country more than in your previous one?
Peace would be the number one thing. There aren’t hoodlums hanging about the streets in the small city I live in. There is more freedom where I live, the food is better and the wine and slivovice that are made in the villages are the best aphrodisiac around. Of course the most beautiful women live in the Eastern Block countries. The police don’t seem to bother or even notice me when I travel the highways and bi-ways of the country.
What kind of things made you to move your location that drastically anyway – from a familiar and safe environment to a totally different environment? How long did it take from you to adjust to your new home country, and learn properly how to live your life in that country? I guess this wasn’t only a matter of few weeks, but more like some months, or years even?
Do you really think that people feel safe in America? Big Brother controls every aspect of their lives these days. Freedom in the States is a thing of the past, a fond memory. It gets worse every year. I adjusted very quickly. No doubt the language is and will always be a problem for me, but the second language in The Czech Republic, English is being taught to the children in all schools. This is definitely a step in the right direction. Familiarity is in the eye of the beholder. I feel a familiarity with every country I have ever toured in, it just depends upon your outlook in life. So many people are afraid to leave their own backyard and certainly miss out on the endless possibilities life has to offer them.
However, you soon became friends with many metal musicians from that country, resulting in you to playing in such bands as Martyr (Cze) and Krabathor. Would you tell us something about those days, how you actually ended up joining these two bands, and did your musical satisfactory levels meet all these expectations that you possibly had about the stuff of those two aforementioned bands?
I actually met Krabathor while they were on tour supporting Malevolent Creation and Master on a tour in 2000 across Europe. It was inevitable that we became friends after traveling across Europe in a broken down German school bus for 44 dates. During the tour we discussed a project and Martyr was born. I wrote some songs as well as Christopher and we met up in Czech. My heart and spirit has been here ever since. I was offered the position of bassist for Krabathor during the recording of the Martyr album. I returned home worked, and sold all my belongings and took out the next plane six weeks later. The first tour was in Japan a few weeks later. This was a great move on part.
The only problem that came up in the end was that many people just wouldn’t accept this. They hated the next release from Krabathor entitled UNFORTUNATELY DEAD. People hated the fact that the Master influence was all over this record. So on the next CD called DISSUADE TRUTH Christopher wrote all the songs and I just wrote lyrics for three tracks. This particular CD was great and a return to true Krabathor, but again they didn’t accept it. Christopher decided in 2004 that he wanted to remain in the USA and become an American. I stayed in Czech ever since 2004 and he lives in Chicago today. I guess we traded places. I had the pleasure of meeting up with him on the recent Master tour in the USA and it was cool to hang out for a few minutes. I was extremely busy as driver, merchandiser and tour manager for Master as well as musician. Christopher has joined the underground legends called Evil Incarnate and has begun playing shows recently. I am happy for him. We probably will record another Krabathor CD in the near future. I have to laugh because on all Master tours as well as my merchandiser gigs people ask on a regular basis when we will record another Krabathor record.
When did you actually decide to put Master back to its feet again, and find a new line-up around it after you had moved to Czech Republic? How many musicians did you have to put through the audition in order to find a stable line-up for newly located Master?
After the Martyr and Krabathor records the Krabathor line-up and I with a few guests recorded a Master CD called LET´S START A WAR in 2002, so the band really never went away. We toured the same year with Krabathor and Master. I laugh at questions like these because before this Master toured from 1993 until 1999 in America, Mexico, South and Central America as well as returning to Europe in 1999. We never stopped, or I should say that I never stopped.
I began a search for a new drummer for Master in late 2003 and found the legend Zdenek Pradlovsky and guitarist Alex Nejezchleba at the studio where we recorded the last several albums. Since this period Master has been going strong in Europe, touring and playing festivals regularly.
OTHER PAST BANDS FROM FUNERAL BITCH TO ASSAULT
What could you tell us such bands as Funeral Bitch, Walpurgisnacht, Solutions and Assault; four metal bands that you have been involved with during your long musical metal history?
Funeral Bitch was created after the recording of the Death Strike and Master demos a year later in 1986. Master was short-lived in the beginning. Funeral Bitch was a project with the guitarist Alex Olvera from the band Assault. We began as Assault and Alex said we should change the band name to Funeral Bitch. I accepted his idea and we recorded a few demos. This was also short-lived as I had begun practicing with Aaron Nickeas late nights after Funeral Bitch practice and we started a band called Abomination. I really just stole the drummer from this band called Abomination and Nickeas stole the name. Later, members of the past two bands got together and came up with another soon to be legend from Chicago called Funeral Nation. I was never a part of this. I never recorded the NUK EM demo, this was Funeral Nation.
Solutions was a punk project recorded in Holland after the 1999 tour. It’s a cool record with a few funny tracks as well as well written numbers.
Walpurgisnacht was just a demo I recorded along with Sammy Pierre Duet from Goatwhore as a tribute to a falled comrade of his Audie Petri from the band called Acid Bath from Louisiana.
What can we expect from Master within the next 1-2 years or so? At least one studio album, plus some heavy touring perhaps?
We have 31 dates booked so far for Europe and the USA. If time allows we will record a new CD, but it’s rather doubtful at the moment as I have many tours to work besides the Master shows.
I – on behalf of Metal-Rules.com, too, wanna sincerely show my gratitude and thank you Paul for all your time you put into these questions when answering to them. Hopefully it was well worth it, and best of luck to you with all of your future endeavors. Any last words, or comments?
Yes, if people want to hear real honest music from one of the originators of the genre, then check out SLAVES TO SOCIETY as well as the first two re-releases on Displeased Records. Also for those interested the third CD called COLLECTION OF SOULS will be re-issued with bonus demo tracks in March 2009.
Paul with Funeral Bitch
OFFICIAL MASTER HOMEPAGE: