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DATE OF INTERVIEW: 17th March 2020
Germany's modern metal quintet Neaera reunited two years ago, after a relatively ephemeral split. And their three years apart has seemingly reinvigorated their steadfast metal spirit, as evidenced on 2020’s eponymously titled comeback album. With the original lineup intact, a renewed association with their longtime label, Metal Blade, and other prior acquaintances reignited and places from the past revisited, 'Neaera' is not merely a nostalgic trip, but an exhilarating metal record very much of the here and now. Guitarist Stefan Keller answered Metal Discovery's questions about the reunion and new album...
METAL DISCOVERY: So, Neaera are back! And it’s great to have the band back, as the new album is fantastic. By calling the new album ‘Neaera’, is that supposed to be a bold statement in itself, of “we’re back!” kind of thing?
STEFAN: Thank you so much! Yes, pretty much! The title sums up the original idea of the band and the music. ‘NEAERA’ as a title redefines us as a band and is a statement that underlines that the five of us are still playing the same fierce metal music in a world that is still haunted by oppression and injustice, as the historical woman Neaera was in Ancient Greece.
(Stefan Keller on Neaera's lineup longevity)
"I think we are now at a state where we know each other and each other’s strengths and weaknesses better than before and can react better and work more efficiently. In our first steps we fought over the first merch design because everybody wanted to have a say. The fact that we are still the same bunch is something very special."
Interview by Mark Holmes
Photograph copyright © 2019 - uncredited
Thanks to Andy Turner for arranging the interview
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MD: I have to say, I think I must’ve missed the news that you split in 2015… I simply thought you were taking an awfully long time to make a new album. To be fair, the split only really lasted for three years, so the blink of an eye, effectively! Has that been a common opinion, have you found, that people hadn’t particularly realised you’d disappeared for a while?
STEFAN: Well, the break up did not really last for long, that’s true. But it was serious. And inevitable! We reached a state where we felt we could not go on with the band as we did. And as we wanted to and also, creatively and lyrically, we felt as being in a dead end. In hindsight, it was a healthy decision as it paved the way for a reunion and a reignition that was good and necessary for us.
MD: How’s the new album been going down with fans, both old and new? Has everyone been loving what they’ve heard?
STEFAN: I have to say the reactions are really good. The record combines our trademarks. It sounds familiar but fresh at the same time. The songwriting has matured and the people seem to dig the relentlessness and aggressiveness it contains.
MD: When you reformed in 2018 for a couple of live shows, was it always the intention to try and renew your association with Metal Blade and record a new album, or did the decision to work on new material come later on? Was it only about the reunion shows to begin with? One step at a time, perhaps?
STEFAN: There was no plan to really reunite and record an album at that time. It was simply a very good offer, which showed us that there is still interest within the market. We felt that it was worth a try and didn’t reckon that the reactions were that overwhelming. It changed something. In fact, it changed a lot.
MD: When you started working on new material, was the old songwriting chemistry there from the off? Did you surprise yourselves by the quality of the material you were coming up with, seven years on from ‘Ours is the Storm’? Were there many cobwebs to blow away?
STEFAN: Actually, the songwriting was very different. Before Tobias, Sebastian and I have been writing the songs in the rehearsal room. But this record was mainly written by Tobias alone with the great help of our esteemed producer Tristan Hachmeister, who we owe a lot as he accompanied and oversaw the entire process.
MD: Press blurb accompanying the new album opens with “Never say never!” Evidently, that’s been the case with the band being reactivated, but is that also your motto in life? Do you think it’s important to never draw a final line under something that’s previously been such a positive experience? I presume Neaera always was a positive experience?!
STEFAN: As every band member or musician would probably agree, being in a band can be a very diverse experience. There are always ups and downs of various kinds. We collected precious experiences that are worth endless. But we surely had our downs as well. Overall, the band means a lot to everyone in the band. After all, we have been doing this for 16 years.
MD: With so many bands experiencing personnel changes over the years, Neaera, rather refreshingly and admirably, has its original lineup intact. Is it, and has it always been, fun and games between the five of you, with your creativity, being on the road, etc.? Are you good at resolving any conflicts that arise?
STEFAN: I think we are now at a state where we know each other and each other’s strengths and weaknesses better than before and can react better and work more efficiently. In our first steps we fought over the first merch design because everybody wanted to have a say. The fact that we are still the same bunch is something very special. In terms of conflict–solving, I think we could be better and worse.
MD: There’s a lot of pastiche on the album of a whole load of different metal subgenres - black metal styled tremolo-picked passages; melodic death; metalcore breakdowns; blast-beats; thrashy parts; twin guitar harmonies; a diverse range of growls. It’s almost like a celebration of everything that’s great about the metal genre. Or maybe a celebration of everything you personally love, and have always loved, about the metal genre?
STEFAN: Yes, man, so much!! That is absolutely it. We play what we love and we love the fact that we can do whatever the fuck we want. As a modern metal band (as I like to call it) we feel we have no boundaries in terms of mixing subgenres of this great and rich and so vast music genre, heavy metal. On the new album there are no second thoughts, no self-censorship. That is something very cool and precious. And, of course, the fact that we have a loyal base that digs that in the same manner as we do. It presupposes a certain openness. But, at the same time, it is only metal, right?
MD: Are there any metal bands or more leftfield metal subgenres you love, but you think is a step/style too far, and would never have a place within Neaera’s compositions?
STEFAN: Well, we have some The Ocean, Cult of Luna, AmenRa, Rammstein, Meshuggah and Boy Sets Fire fans in the band. Yet, these styles are a little difficult to combine within our sound. Yet, there are parts here and there that maybe show that we love this music as well. I can imagine there are fans who actually say: yeah, alright, that makes sense (somehow).
MD: I concluded my review of the album by saying: “Expect the clichés, give in to the clichés and embrace the fucking clichés… it’s familiar territory, but there’s nowt wrong with a healthy dose of familiarity when you’re in the mood for all the nostalgic comforts it provides, right?” Is that a fair summary, would you say? Is the album supposed to be digested in that way?
STEFAN: I would definitely partially agree. I think within this record there are no boundaries in terms of what can be played and can’t be played. As I said, there was no self-censorship or second thoughts or a plan what to play and what not. To me, that is the strength of the record. It’s from the hearts, direct and pure. And intuitive. And in terms of clichés…yes, there are riffs and mosh parts on the record which are really ignorant. But this ignorance to me is a strength. It’s a luxury that you have to be able to afford. For some musicians it would be impossible. Nevertheless, although I would agree that the album celebrates cliché, I would also say it stretches beyond that.
MD: I guess the nostalgic dynamic extends to the fact you recruited Jacob Hansen again to mix and master everything, who you previously worked with on your albums in 2006 and 2007. And you also got Terje Johnsen back to do your artwork, who’s created three of your previous album covers. And you recorded the drums at a studio where you recorded your demo in 2004. So is the reunion one big nostalgic fest, or simply that you’ve chosen the best people/settings? Or a bit of both?
STEFAN: I’d say both, I guess. Back to the roots was a little bit part of the agenda, refurbishing the trademarks if you will. But, in the end, it was rather about getting the best people to achieve the best possible result.
MD: Apart from being able to make the music you love, what’s been the most enjoyable thing about reforming the band?
STEFAN: I think it really was this idea of completing the circle. So many old friends who we have worked with before. To ask some of them 10 years after we last worked with them whether they would be in was really cool for all of us. We also played our release show for the new record in the same club we played our first release show. And the video for ‘Torchbearer’ was shot at the same venue as the video for ‘Let the Tempest Come’. So, yep, we really liked this whole thing.
MD: Finally, is Neaera now back for good, with further albums planned; touring; festivals; etc? Too early to say? One step at a time?
STEFAN: Yes! We are officially reunited and are open towards anything the future might hold for us. Of course, we have only planned this year as a band so far. At the moment, everything is exciting enough.
MD: Thanks for the interview and it’s great to have you guys back… even if I hadn’t realised you’d been away!
STEFAN: No worries, man, it has only been 5 years and we are not Iron Maiden, right? Thank you very much indeed. And thanks for your great insight and preparation.