Ancient Curse – Interview with Gunnar Erxleben

Interview with Gunnar Erxleben of Ancient Curse

Interview by Beandog

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Many fans of German progressive power metal will remember Ancient Curse from the two albums they put out towards the end of the nineties.

The Landing and Thirsty Fields both set the template for the band’s particular brand of strident riffs, soaring vocals and melodic soloing. However, due to various commitments and other projects (vocalist/guitarist Pepe Pierez was a full time member of Sons Of Seasons) what followed was a span of over twenty years without new music.

Thankfully, Ancient Curse have emerged once again with a brand new album of new material – The New Prophecy.

We spoke to guitarist, Gunnar Erxleben for an update.

Gunnar! Good to talk. Just before we begin, can you give us a quick introduction and tell us about the other members of the band?

Hey yeah, we are ANCIENT CURSE from Bremen / Northern Germany. Currently, we have our new album on the line, The New Prophecy. I play the lead guitar. Pepe Pierez is responsible for the vocals/guitar. Thorsten plucks the bass and Matthias grooves the drums; he also developed the complete cover artwork, by the way!

Thank you! How are you all? Can you give us a quick update of how things are in the band, generally, at the moment?

Things are going very well right now. With Pure Steel Records we have a strong partner who supports us in all matters. Besides the album we recently released two videos: Fire & Ice and The New Prophecy. We are planning more videos with exciting ideas. Due to the pandemic we currently don’t have the possibility to promote our album live but we hope to be able to do it as soon as possible.

The New Prophecy is your first full album release in over twenty years! – What can you tell us about the time that has passed between your previous records and this album?

Our last official album, The Landing, was released in 1997. In 1999 we recorded a demo CD (My Own Universe), but it was never released officially. Due to a change of residence and jobs we couldn’t revive the band at that time.

In the following years everybody had their own projects (Pepe had some years of success with Sons of Seasons and I joined the thrash band Riot Instinct). In 2013 there was the opportunity to support Mob Rules in Bremen and we were all on fire again. We got on to it and it was a complete success! From there, it was clear that we wanted an album! It took another seven years, but we think it was worth it!

Now you’ve brought that enthusiasm to fruition, how would you describe The New Prophecy in comparison to those earlier albums? What are the similarities and what are the differences?

Well, still we bundle our energies and unite our ideas in progressive power metal like back then, but I think we sound more mature than ever and have perfected our style. Today, as then, bands like Testament and Forbidden influence us, but also Fates Warning or Psychotic Waltz. I think we have found our own style now and are constantly developing it. We are not lacking in musical ideas!

The New Prophecy is an album that we are very satisfied with in terms of sound and composition. I am looking forward to our further development!

The record appears to cover a wide range of lyrical influences, from environmental issues on Men Of The Storm to reflections on love and relationships elsewhere on the album. Is there an overriding theme or message that you feel defines this album?

There is no overriding theme in the sense of a concept album, but there is a lyrical connection between our song The New Prophecy, the cover design and our time spent on hiatus. The New Prophecy tells of the awakening of ANCIENT CURSE – mightier and more powerful than ever before – like the phoenix from the ashes! This is the message of the album: We can’t wait to bring the energy and power of ANCIENT CURSE on stage and share our music face to face with our fans!

You credit two special guests featuring on The New Prophecy (Henning Basse of Metalium/Sons Of Season and Oliver Palotai of Kamelot). Obviously, you’ve been involved with Henning before, when Pepe collaborated on Sons Of Season, but can you tell us a bit more about how these gentlemen became involved with The New Prophecy? Did you plan to bring in other musicians from the start and what do they bring to the album?

Pepe kept in touch with the musicians, even after the Sons of Seasons period. He recorded the vocals in Henning’s studio. The song, Follow The Signs was already very orchestral in its composition, so it was obvious he would ask Oliver and Henning to contribute something to the album. You can hear the great orchestrations from Oliver in the intro and the characteristic singing of Henning in the middle part of the song – Thanks guys, you did a fantastic job!

To elaborate on that, can you describe your song writing process and tell us how you approach your craft?

Mostly, Pepe or I have song ideas which we pre-produce at home (riffing, structure and vocal melodies). These ideas are worked out concretely in the rehearsal room, and often we create wacky rhythms or bass lines, but also twin guitar harmonies or finesses in the vocals. I write the lyrics for my song ideas, often I already have corresponding topics in my head, but Pepe and Thorsten also write lyrics. Matthias is an excellent drummer with great ideas for grooves and rhythms. I think this approach is what makes ANCIENT CURSE so versatile.

I recently saw the video you made for the title track. It looked like you had a great time making it. What can you tell us about the shoot and how you planned it?

Yeah, we actually had a lot of fun! So far we’ve had little experience with video shooting. Pure Steel Records had the request to release a music video of us at the release and Pepe had the idea to stage The New Prophecy in the catacombs of our rehearsal room. We draped some construction lights and asked some buddies to film us. The editing was done by Rob (a partner of Pure Steel Records) and our drummer Matthias. I think the result is quite impressive and the powerful energy of ANCIENT CURSE can be felt in this video!

You mentioned that you have other videos planned. Are you going to release any more singles from the album?

We have a lot of ideas for several songs on the album. Two concepts are in planning and waiting to be implemented soon. I don’t want to reveal anything at this point but the next video will surely be a surprise and released soon!

To recap slightly, Ancient Curse began over thirty years ago! That’s a long history and I am sure there have been many twists and turns on that journey. What has been the band’s biggest challenge so far?

Well, we already had some line-up changes behind us and we have been active in the current line up since 1994, but the biggest challenge was our trip to Cuba in 1996. We didn’t have mobile phones and there was no internet. At some point we received a letter from a radio presenter who wrote that we were currently number 1 in the radio-listener’s charts with our song, Plastic Tears! It was on a sampler from a Hamburg label and somehow got to Cuba! We had to arrange by letter when we could reach him by phone which as you can imagine, it took us months. Then because of the time difference, we had to call at night – also, the good man had no telephone but his aunt did!

Meanwhile, we had mobilized the press about the realization that we were at number 1 in the Cuban listener charts. The chairman of the German-Cuban Society contacted us and arranged a lot of things for us so that we could finally start our trip to Cuba with a sound engineer, a roadie and our manager who is still active for us today.

Before that, because the power grid in Cuba has a completely different voltage than in Europe, we had to get some current transformers in addition to guitars and effects equipment. We would have been lost without our roadie and sound engineer who worked through the “ancient” technology so that the sound was halfway useful…..Apropos “Antique.” We on the way with a rickety bus, whose floor had a huge rust hole. Looking back, it was a miracle that we successfully completed the Cuba trip and landed back in Germany alive!

Haha! Crazy days! And, what has been the band’s most significant achievement?

That was clearly our trip to Cuba, too! The radio presenter wrote to us that we were in the listener charts no. 1 as mentioned! (Despite) the hurdles already mentioned we packed our stuff and flew to the sugar cane island to play some gigs there. It was a great success, especially since we were the first western band in the socialist country since the revolution. I also have to say that the deal with Pure Steel Records, our current album and our current success is overwhelming and great for us!

Before any of that, going back even further, what would you credit as being the inspiration for coming together and starting a band?

Back in the 80’s Pepe and I learned to play guitar and had the same idols of the NWOBHM. In school we painted record covers and had the dream of a band. We got to know Metallica and ordered the demo tapes of Legacy (Testament), Heathen, Hellhound, Violence and found the Bay Area scene in SF very cool. We got an appointment in a music room of a youth centre and formed a band and soon we had our first gigs and people liked our stuff! In 1987 (we recorded) the first demo tape, “From Below.” In 1991, the second demo tape “Contrast In Union” followed with Thorsten on bass. This was presented in a welded tin can at that time! We always had our own ideas and drew our inspirations from the metal scene of that time without any YouTube, Mp3 and internet, but as tape trader and vinyl collectors!

As influences, you’ve mentioned Metallica and Testament, for example… Tell us some more about the musicians who inspired you back then?

We have been influenced and are still influenced by bands like Iron Maiden, Loudness Cacophony, Fates Warning, Testament, Psychotic Waltz but also Toto, Yes, or Marillion. Each and every one of us has a wide range of musical tastes and brings influences to the music of our band. As a result, artists such as Jason Becker, Marty Friedman, Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, Akira Takasaki, Eddie van Halen, Jeff Porcaro, Simon Phillips and Billy Sheenan and many more inspired us.

And who inspires you now?

Well, actually we’re inspired from Guys like Dirk Verbeuren or Michael Romeo and the artists of that time, who are still active today.

Having brought things up to date, we should acknowledge what a unexpected turn 2020 took. Specifically, COVID-19 and the worldwide lock-down. It must be especially hard to have an album released in the middle of all this. What are your thoughts on the situation?

It is of course very annoying that we cannot support the album live at the moment. But the situation is dramatic for bars, clubs and concert organizers. This is about the existence of entire business areas and the politicians should do everything possible to keep these pearls of society alive. Otherwise, at least here in Bremen, a whole cultural landscape will disappear and it will take a long time to fill it with life again! Of course, it is important to contain the spread of the Coronavirus as much as possible. In the meantime, the restrictions are being relaxed piece by piece and I think that is the right way to go! We hope to be on stage again in autumn to inspire the fans!

It’s good know you are looking towards a positive future. What is next for Ancient Curse? What would you like to achieve?

Well, another number 1 hit in Cuba or any other country in the world would look good on us…Hahaha! We are also eager to present our stuff live to our fans and to interact face-to-face again! In addition, we have a number of new ideas and songs that we will soon be working on for another long-player!

Excellent! Finally… I always ask the bands for some solid musical recommendations. If there are any bands or albums you think should be in EVERYONE’S record collection, what would they be?

It doesn’t take me long to think about it: Psychotic Waltz, Soen, Flotsam & Jetsam’s The Cold & Doomsday for the Deceiver, DGM’s Momentum & The Passage, Michael Romeo & Symphony X, Fates Warning and… last but not least, Ancient CurseThe New Prophecy!

Superb! Thanks, Gunnar. I appreciate the time you’ve taken to answer our questions! Best wishes!

Thanks a lot for the attention to Ancient Curse!!!

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