Interview with Burden Of Life about the new album The Makeshift Conqueror
Kumi666: You entirely proved such a talented melody-maker you are with “The Makeshift Conqueror”. I’m still a huge fan of death metal but honestly admit to my love for your beautiful new album full of stunning melodies with a wide part of great clean vocals. Anyway, it took a long time to unveil the new album since you released the previous one “In Cycles” but I’m happy all of you guys are back! How have you guys been doing since then?
Kötti: Well, first of all thanks a lot for your kind words! We have been good, thanks for asking! Of course, four years are a long time, but we are all at least 30 years old by now and there are lots of other things in our lives we have to take care of apart from the band. Still, we felt that we still had something to say musically, so in 2019 we decided to record a fourth full-length album after all, and we are very happy we did it!
Kumi666: I feel like “The Makeshift Conqueror” is a concept album cos some songs are obviously connected each other but I’m not sure cos “Anthem Of The Unbeloved” for example sounds irrelevant with any other songs in the album, and it’s different from the movie-like clear-cut concept album “The Vanity Syndrome”. It’s not a concept album, is it?
Kötti: It is not a concept album in the sense that “The Vanity Syndrome” was one. But it’s also not as loose and unconnected as “In Cycles” was. There is no story and no real guiding thread but some of the songs are connected with one another. “The Makeshift Conqueror Pt.I” and “Pt.II” are obviously a pair and the same goes for “Goddess Of The River” and “Regression (Goddess’ Return)”. But this time the connections are more on a thematical and lyrical level, not so much on a musical level. Still, I think that the album as a whole is more self-contained than “In Cycles” was.
Kumi666: The second reason I thought it could be a concept album was the philosophical album arts. Those fabulous drawings – weathered machine (the silhouette itself looks like a man somehow) and cogs, contrastive images (like everything has two sides) within geometric graphics symbolically depict some words from the lyrics, right? Could you tell us about the arts and the talented artist?
Kötti: The very talented artist who created the artwork for the album is Ann-Kathrin Müller (www.ann-kathrin-mueller.de). She already did all the background artwork on In Cycles; in fact, she did everything apart from the front cover. So, it was a logical conclusion to ask her to do the whole thing this time. When she asked us what we had in mind we just gave her the music and lyrics and told her to figure it out herself. She was actually quite thankful because the more artistic freedom she is given the happier she is to work on it. Knowing that, we just trusted here and what can I say? I think the whole artwork is amazing and we are very happy with it. Of course, she told us what her thought process was behind each piece and why she chose to do what she did. But I think it is more exciting if people make up their own minds about that.
Kumi666: Back in 2013, in my second interview with you, you told me you don’t care too much about your music genre and described your own music as “Heavy Metal music spiced up with everything we think could fit our songs.”. I think The Makeshift Conqueror is just the ultimate album so far for what you said about your music style. You combined many music styles as one in the album and your abundant musical knowledges keep updating Burden Of Life as an attractive band. And, it seems you find amusement in containing kinda stereotype-breaking surprises in your albums. For example, the first track of “In Cycles” was a total ballad. This time, you set a couple of fun traps in “The Makeshift Conqueror” as well. So, let’s go on with track-by-track details.
The Makeshift Conqueror Pt. I
Kumi666: You set the first surprise on the first track of the album. It’s almost an acoustic tune and you managed it with clean vocals entirely and you are too good for clean singing as well. How did you decide to put your great clean vocals widely on the album?
Kötti: Well, thank you! This song was at one point actually a part of a draft of “The Makeshift Conqueror Pt.II” but at some point the other guys said that it is just too much for one song and I had to agree. Karl, our bass player, then suggested to make a separate song out of that. So, I extracted that part, fleshed it out a little bit more, added the guitar solo section and the lyrics and then there was a nice little 2:30-min song for which we had no use at first. But when Pt.II was finally finished, we decided to make this Part I and start the album off with it to get the two songs to work as bookends. Finally, we twitched the song’s ending to lead into “Geistesblitz” and there you go!
Using more clean vocals was an absolute natural progression. If you look at our discography, you will see that the clean vocals are getting more and more from album to album. I just feel much more comfortable as a singer nowadays. If I had liked my voice that much in 2008, we would have always had more clean vocals. But apart from my abilities, our tastes have also broadened. Sure, there are still bands with harsh vocals we love, but if a band does nothing else vocal-wise we now mostly feel it is a bit one-dimensional and bland. Of course, there are still bands that work just perfectly this way. We just felt we needed this bit of evolution in our own music.
Kumi666: As I mentioned above, the art of the back of the digipack must be a weathered machine but looks like a man, the roots of those plants look like a brain and veins of a man as well. It seems the art is an abstract image of the man who was a makeshift conqueror, isn’t it?
Kötti: I do not want to speak for our artist but I think, and that is just my interpretation, that the whole figure on the front cover is meant to be a person that is pieced together from different parts of machinery and fauna, a makeshift person so to say. Parts are misused for a non-fitting purpose and stuff like that but somehow it still seems to work, just like makeshift ideas do from time to time.
Kumi666: First, I had to figure out the word “geistesblitz” means “brainstorm”. Why did you name the title of the song in your language?
Kötti: Yeah, there is no real cool English translation for this expression. This is why we just decided to use the term from our native language. It just sounded so much catchier and cooler. Do you know that situation in a cartoon when they suddenly have an idea and there is a glowing light bulb above their head? THAT is a Geistesblitz. At first, this was just the working title, because the music for the song was exactly that: it came all of a sudden and I had it written down in a mere 7 or 8 hours, which is really fast for such a long and complex song. After that, I just decided to write the lyrics around that working title because I really wanted to keep it and I also felt that the music could really fit this lyrical idea.
Kumi666: This song is available as the first music video much before the album release day.
I fell in love with it instantly because the story in the video greatly expresses about the lyrical world of the song. All the artists from various genres appearing in the video were struggling for what they were doing. All of them were writhing in agony for creating their new arts and once collapsed in despair. And then, they got brainstorms and all struggles turned out satisfactions. I saw “No pain, no gain.” touch in the story but as you guys identify yourself “burden of life”, the end of the chorus line sounds hard. Did you reflect yourself as an artist in the song anyway?
Kötti: Great interpretation, you totally got it! Yes, this song is indeed very autobiographical. It recounts the struggles of an artist who feel that he cannot compete with his past creations and that he has nothing left to say. Then, there are, of course, ups and downs in this process of creation and I felt that the song’s shifting sections could transport this mood brilliantly. And yeah, you could call this whole process one of my life’s burdens which I get to experience with each new creative endeavor over and over again.
Goddess Of The River
Kumi666: What a relief! Growls are back. And one of the impressive points through the album is the choir adding some depth to the album. They sound like a Latin gospel choir. Could you tell us about them?
Kötti: I thought you’d like that! We’ve been using real choirs since “The Vanity Syndrome”. MIDI and Synths are nice and we still use them as well, in fact more heavily than ever before on this album. However, there are some parts where you want the choir to sing some actual lyrics and although there are engines which can kind of reproduce that, nothing beats a few real good singers. So nowadays, we just ask eight to ten of our friends, of whom we know that they can sing, to come in and do these choirs. We then layer their voices five, ten or fifteen times and there you go, you have an awesome and massive-sounding choir. In exchange they get pizza and endless gratitude!
Anthem Of The Unbeloved
Kumi666: It’s totally away from a death metal tune but honestly one of my favorite tracks in the album with fantastic melodies. This twinkling song shows the width of your musical range. It’s a great combination between Metal / Rock and Latin Jazz / Fusion / Bossa Nova (sorry for my musical ignorance), and you invited a guest musician for the flute part, right?
Kötti: “Anthem Of The Unbeloved” was the odd-man-out from the beginning. It was just so weird, somewhat happy and just came out of left field, that we really were not sure if we could put it on the album. But when it was fully recorded, vocals, choirs and all, we just went for it because we all really, really liked it. I am sure it is a bit controversial, but a good song is a good song, so who cares, right? The flute was played by Anna Guggenberger, a fellow music student of mine. It was here first time in a recording studio and she did a great job! It is one of the album’s highlights for sure!
Sealing Our Fate
Kumi666: This track is another favorite for me. The apocalyptic lyrics sound just death metal. It’s relevant for the cover art too?
Kötti: You would have to ask Annka, our artist, if the artwork relates to the song in any way. I do not see any obvious connections, but I cannot say for sure. And yes, this is the most classically metal-sounding track on here for sure. We love all these weird and new elements, but we do still love metal music as well. So, of course, there will still be heavy songs with blastbeats, black metal riffing and extreme vocals. I do not think that this will ever change.
Kumi666: Pisces makes me feel kinda nostalgic. Holistically, I feel like you got a lot of influences from kinda 80’s metal as well, didn’t you?
Kötti: I do love classic Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Metallica and lots of other 80s stuff. I also love a lot of rock and pop music from the 80s. There is just a certain devotion to melodies and hooks that I very often do miss in more modern music. But, of course, I am only looking at this through rose-colored time-travel glasses, so what do I know? However, I am sure this music has an influence on my songwriting because I love it wholeheartedly. The melodies in “Pisces”, be it the guitar licks or the vocal lines, are for sure proof of that.
Regression (Goddess’ Return)
Kumi666: This track must be a pair with Goddess Of The River. Well, you often use rhymes in the lyrics of your songs, don’t you?
Kötti: Yes, it is a continuation of “Goddess Of The River”. That song is about a person that cost me a lot of nerves and with whom I had actually broken off all contact. But at some point, during the songwriting process for “The Makeshift Conqueror”, this person came back into my life and brought back a lot of bad memories and unfinished business. So, I just felt I needed to continue this story in the album’s lyrics as well.
When I am writing lyrics, I like to use different sorts of rhyming schemes. I think lyrics just flow better that way. But there are also moments where it is not necessary, and I just like to figure out what the song needs and then try to write the lyrics accordingly.
Trust My Own Heart
Kumi666: This ballad is available too as the second music video from The Makeshift Conqueror. You had a great guest musician for this song. Could you tell us about her?
Kötti: Our guest singer/pianist is the wonderful Luisa Funkenstein. She is a dear friend of ours and we actually only wanted her to play the piano on “Trust My Own Heart”. But when I was writing the lyrics, I felt there was an opportunity to turn this song into a duet and it was just too good to miss it. So, when she was in the studio it was a rather spontaneous proposal, but she accepted and, the total professional she is, she just went into the booth and nailed it within a few takes. The music she makes is very different from ours, but I do like it a lot and also help out at here live shows from time to time. It’s worth checking out for sure!
Kumi666: The location in the video is impressive. Did you film it in a real barn of a farm?
Kötti: Yes it is! This barn was actually already an idea for the “Geistesblitz” video but we ultimately decided against it. But when it was time to do a second video, we remembered that plan and it was just perfect for this intimate ballad and we love how it turned out!
The Makeshift Conqueror PT. II
Kumi666: It’s obvious this final track is a counterpart with the PT.I. Musically and lyrically, it’s appropriate as the final track of the album. Great song! There is some marching drum session in the intro. Could you tell about the guest drummers?
Kötti: I guess being a progressive band means that you always need a longtrack at the end of the album, right? At least that is what we have been doing for the last few records. When we decided to do the marching drum parts, we knew that we had to at least double that on the record. And to make that sound even more natural and organic, we thought that it would be a cool idea to ask some drummers we are friends with to do that for us. So, Michael “Air” Hofmann, who is our co-producer Hubi’s brother, and Moriz Damjantschitsch, also a dear friend, were obvious choices, as they are very talented drummers and were happy to lend us their talents. Thank you again guys!
Kumi666: What does makeshift conqueror mean for you?
Kötti: Conquering issues in a makeshift way is what I have been doing most of my life. I rarely make elaborate plans; I adjust them as life is happening around me. This, of course, tends to have its advantages and disadvantages. I am rarely stressed out by anything and always believe that things will sort themselves out. But sometimes they just don’t and then I am mostly at my wit’s end. So, in some painful scenarios I had to endure a lot of backlash, resistance and arguments, but also a lot of inner conflicts to finally succeed. Still, I feel that I would not want it any other way. Of course, there is always a chance for a certain amount of growth and as I get older, I tend to embrace that more and more. But in some ways, I am who I am, and I will always be. And that’s ok with me.
Kumi666: By the way, there should have been Metal Up Your Life some days ago, right?
Kötti: You may have heard of the cancellation due to the pandemic. We were really excited to be playing and we were disappointed that we could not. But we understand why it could not happen and are looking forward to future shows with our friends.
Kumi666: You would have played some acoustic set as well, then?
Kötti: We were planning to, yes. Some of the new songs really lend themselves to these more intimate acoustic settings and some of the old ones do as well. We will catch up on that at some other point, I am sure.
Kumi666: Your new album will be available in Japan as well, woohoo. Can we expect that Burden Of Life will be much more active than these past years?
Kötti: As you know, right now, our hands are tied due to the pandemic. These are unprecedented times and life will not be the same after all this is over. We hope that it will change some things for the better. After all, it is about time. However, we hope that mankind will be able to contain this virus and that there will be clubs and stages left to play and that there will be a demand for live music. No one knows how this all turns out but if there is a possibility to do some shows this fall, we would sure love to try. We will see what happens, health comes first, of course!
Kumi666: Thank you so much for your time for this interview and thank you so much for your brilliant music!
Kötti: Thank you, you rock! Be safe! We STILL hope to play Japan someday!
Burden Of Life are:
Christian Kötterl - Vocals, Guitars
Michael Schafberger - Guitars
Karl-Arnold Bodarwé - Bass
Matthias Babl - Drums