Celebrating their 25th anniversary in 2022, German metalcore pillars Caliban are showing zero signs of creative fatigue, releasing two albums in as many years. Their latest, lucky number 13 studio LP Dystopiafinds the Essen based outfit of Andreas Dörner, Marc Görtz, Denis Schmidt, Patrick Grün, Marco Schaller, Threading the needle between darkly melodic and broodingly heavy, book-ending a transformation and evolution of the band that has never leaned into genre conventions.
Derner sat down with Metal Injection for a deep dive into Caliban‘s milestone anniversary and new record, thoughts on the German heavy metal scene, the bands’ relationship with long-time friends Heaven Shall Burna disastrous 2009 tour with Creator, and much more!
It’s amazing to think it’s been twenty five years. Does that kind of take you back a bit? Your biggest albums commercially, realistically, have been your last four or five. You seem to be getting bigger with each release and tour and to look at the fact that it’s been twenty five years to me, it’s pretty daunting.
Twenty five years is a long time, yeah, and we never imagined that we’d be a band full time, you know? We would start out in school like many bands. And it was a hobby, and it was fun. And then it turned out that many people like us, the labels and then it’s going on and going on. Yeah, twenty five years, it’s a long time. We’re happy and proud and thankful for it. I mean, it’s not working without the support from the audience, from our fans.
You and Marc were essentially kids when you started this thing. Denis and Patrick and Marco, they’ve been with you since the early to mid 2000s, so at this point it’s a very tight unit. It’s not like there’s been a revolving door of band members in recent years like you see in a lot of metal bands. There’s quite a bit of familiarity built up there, I’d imagine.
Yeah, it is. I mean, Mark and I, we are the founders of the band. We’ve been in school together. I guess it was 2003, 2004, the last members, Patrick and Marcojoined the band. Denis was some years before, but till then we are one. And yeah, we grew together like a family. We behave like a family. We have arguments. We have good times, bad times, but we stick together at the end. And that’s the important thing, I guess, and that’s why we are still together. So many bands are growing and dying, I don’t know why, but we are happy and grateful that we are still there and that we’re capable of doing what we love the most, doing music, getting paid for it (laughs) . It’s a good, nice hobby.
Talking about the makeup of the band and creation of an album in 2022, is there output from multiple members of the band in terms of the songwriting and the instrumentation? Because I know Marc, aside from being a guitarist, is involved in producing in some aspects. Obviously, now these last two records have been kind of different with COVID-19, but generally is there kind of a formula you’d follow?
Back in the day it was like meeting in a rehearsal room and playing, jamming, looking where it goes. Nowadays or the last ten years, I guess, Mark is the main songwriting guy, music, and I do the vocals, the lyrics, of course, and we work together sometimes with different producers like Benny Richter for example. He’s been in our team for a long time, since the beginning. I have done all of the lyrics and vocals with them for many years now. And Mark is working with them on the instrumentals. For the last two records I guess it was Callanthe guitar player from Dream on, Dreamer. We were working with Sushi from GHØSTKID. But it’s Mark and me from the band working on the songs together with our producers. The other guys from the band, they can bring input and we will work with it, but most of the time they’re happy with what we do. It’s going hand-in-hand. Pretty easy.
In terms of the songwriting and kind of the tone of this record, to me it’s one of the heavier, darker Caliban records front to back. As a songwriter, what was that kind of mix between the melodic and the heaviness, wrestling with themes like life and death, good and evil, and the dichotomy of good and evil. Is that something you enjoy about your songwriting? Mixing the lights and the dark?
Yeah, always. That’s like an inside joke when we are writing lyrics and there’s the topic like dark and light, it’s almost in every second song. I don’t know. It’s always about the dark and the light. It really depends on the music when we start writing the lyrics. We’re listening to the music and then we get into the mood. I know we are not a happy music band. We never write happy lyrics. No party, happy, funny lyrics. It’s always a little bit more dark or deep, dramatic or something in that direction.
Back in the day I wrote a lot about heartache and relationships, but that was kind of boring after a while, always writing the same stuff with different words. Now we try to get into the mood of the song and the environment, what happens now on our planet. Everything is in our minds. The pandemic, your mindset is darker than normal, you know? So maybe your ideas for what you will write are more darker, and that all goes and flows into the lyrics. So maybe that’s why the lyrics are a little bit darker than before, and maybe that’s because the music is a little bit darker.
You collaborated with Marcus from Heaven Shall Burn on this record, and I know you guys are so familiar with them going back basically to the start of your career. Roughly, you guys came up at the same time, helped grow the German metalcore scene. You had a pair of split EPs. That must be a cool thing to still be able to collaborate with this band that you’ve known all the way back to the teenage years, the splits, and now here you guys are all these years later.
Yeah, it is. And we’re happy that we’re still friends because, like you said, we’ve known each other since the beginning. So we started on the same label back in the day, Lifeforce Records and we played our first shows together. It was in the east part of Germany, the first shows they did were in our area and it was always good times. We played a lot of shows together and like you said, we did the split records. Marcus did a feature before on “We Are the Many”, and I did a feature for Heaven Shall Burn on Of Truth and Sacrifice.
The song that Marcus is on “VirUS”, it’s like a very metal song. Like it could be from Heaven Shall Burn … You could say it’s like a little homage to Heaven Shall Burn. And it was an obvious pick to ask Marcus to do the feature. And I thought he wouldn’t do it because he just did a feature with us, but he was happy to do it. And we were happy that he did it. It fits, I guess. It’s like a 50/50 mix. Our voices are like melting together.
Thinking about your early days coming up and those formative years, we talk a lot about these huge instrumental German acts. Obviously, there’s Scorpions, Kreator, Rammstein, Necrophagist. For you as a young man growing up in Germany, were you tapped into the metal community?
For me, I don’t know. I was pretty late into the metal scene. For the other guys they were really into Creator I guess. Mark and Patrick, all the other guys, so I guess I’m the only one who was not into metal at first. My first metal bands were like Metallica, do you know? They were so big and I was 15, 14, the first time I heard them. I guess it was my first concert, 1993, I saw them. German bands, I don’t know.
Scorpions (takes deep exhale). I hate that song. I had very bad times when the song came out, “Wind of Change” … I was never into them. But yeah, a little bit later I was growing more into the metal scene, and I guess I was a bit into Creator, Sodom of course. They’re all from our hometown area, Creator and Sodom, where we are from. So there was no way around them. And I mean, our area’s a big thrash metal scene. And there’s no way around them.
I know you guys got the tour with Creator at one point in Europe, like 10 or 12 years ago?
Yeah, we did. But that was, nah, no good.
Was it the mix of having a metalcore band with a thrash band? Were Creator fans responding to what you guys were putting out or was it just awkward?
Yeah, it was awkward. It was one of the worst tours we ever did, I guess. The whole line-up was too mixed up for the audience, I guess. It was like the thrash metal heroes Creator headlining then we are like the metalcore kiddos, whatever. Between us and Creator is still 10 years, I guess, age-wise, you know? I mean, we are old in the metalcore scene, but in the thrash metal scene we are like kiddos and the people are very intolerant, I guess.
So when we went on stage there were not many people, they turned their backs, showed us the finger and were screaming for Creator and stuff like that. And for the other bands as well. It was Emergency Gate, I guess and Eluvietie. But the whole mix up on this tour was wrong. So the turnout was very bad, even for Creator. Not many people. And yeah, it was like an experiment to mix those genres, but it didn’t work for us, and I guess it didn’t work for Creator.
I mean, on festivals it works because there’s many different people with different views for music. But on a tour, if the people want to see the headliner and they don’t care about the support bands then you are fucked. It was a very long tour for us.
Have there been any shows or tours that have been kind of the opposite of that where you thought, well, we’re going to get fucking destroyed here. Fans are going to hate us and it turned out to be a pleasant surprise.
We had some pleasant surprise shows when we did the Machine Head tour [in 2004].. So there were some shows that people were into us. It was amazing because we were, at this time, it was like 2004 I guess. And we did the tour with Machine Head and some shows were pretty amazing, the people were into us, and we were very surprised about that.
If you look back through, I guess this would be 13 records, and there’s been a ton of experimentation, specifically last year with Zeitgeister being completely in German. You had a cover EP I believe in 2011 and you’ve always tried some pretty interesting things with cover tracks. At this stage, 25 years in, are you trying to find new ways to innovate and excite yourselves? Because 25 years, 13 records, you guys have had a crazy output.
Yeah, we have a pretty tough, I don’t know, time scale in our writing. It’s almost every two years, a new record. I don’t know. It’s because when we write an album and under normal circumstances, no corona times you write an album, you put it out there, you go on tour, you play it like a year or two. And then we write new music because we need new music for ourselves because we get bored of our own songs and not really bored. That’s not true. We want to have new input for ourselves and want to play new songs, learn new songs … There is no bucket list. We will follow and when we think we’re in the mood for new music, we go.
Caliban‘s Dystopia lands April 22 through Century Media Records