We all have burdens in our lives and that’s what these German guys were thinking when they first came up with this name for their band. Burden of Life have been around since 2004 and have recently released their 4th and amazing full-length titled “The Makeshift Conqueror”, through Noizgate Records. In these days of social distancing due to the coronavirus, we had the time and pleasure to discuss all about the new album and other issues with their funny vocalist Kötti. Keep on reading this interesting and elucidative conversation.
Where does the name of the band come from? What is your burden in life?
Well, we chose that name about 15 or 16 years ago. I think back then it was just teenage melancholy. There is a song called “Burden Of Life” on our first demo and although the lyrics are a little unclear and quite cringy from today’s perspective, I think what I wanted to convey back then was just a feeling of being lonely and desperate. Though, in retrospect this was obviously very exaggerated. Oh you, puberty…
The new album “The Makeshift Conqueror” was released on a Friday, March the 13th … was it for good luck?
Just an (un)lucky coincidence. The album was originally meant to be released on February 21st to coincide with our release show. Unfortunately, there were a few setbacks and we had to put the official release date to March 13th. Luckily, we are not superstitious in the slightest.
“The Makeshift Conqueror” is your 4th full-length… what can fans expect of it?
It has been quite a journey from our first album “Ashes Of Existence” to this one. I would like to think that “The Makeshift Conqueror” is once again more varied than our third album “In Cycles”. The music is still rooted in the Melodic Death Metal of old, but today we like to think of our music as being fairly progressive. I think it is an album for metalheads who are not afraid to think outside the box. Essentially, that is what we like to do ourselves.
The album title is “The Makeshift Conqueror”… what does it mean to you?
A makeshift conqueror is a person who likes to solve their issues as they go along. Not planning ahead, taking things as they come. He is conquering his problems, fighting his demons without a strategy, just thinking stuff up on the spot.
The cover features something that looks like a mechanical head and is very interesting. Who’s responsible for it? What is the connection with the album title and lyrics?
The artwork was done by Ann-Kathrin Müller (www.ann-kathrin-mueller.de), a very talented artist friend of ours. We basically did not give her any directions. We just gave her rough mixes of all the songs and all the lyrics, and she just ran with it. The less instructions we gave her, the happier she would be, she said. So that is what we did; we just let her come up with her own interpretations and conclusions. So, although she told us what her thoughts were behind all the illustrations, I do not want to speak for her, and I leave it up to our listeners to figure out their own perspective.
Who / what is the conqueror after all?
The Conqueror is convinced that things will always sort themselves out. That only minimal effort is necessary on his part to reach a happy end. Most of the time, this strategy proves to be successful. Sometimes though, it is not. That is when the Conqueror is helpless and at his wit’s end. So, he has to patch up his failed plans and find new solutions along the way. These solutions tend to become more costly and painful but that is the price he pays for not thinking ahead.
Lyrically, the band deals with depressive topics such as depressions, personal struggles, losses and all that. Are the lyrics biographical? Do you think singing about this is like therapy for you? Do you vent all your frustrations in your lyrics and then in the songs as well? Do you feel “lighter” after writing a lyric about something that caused you pain?
Therapy is a very strong word. It is true, most of the lyrics are autobiographical and they deal with more negative topics. But that is just the way I like to write my lyrics, because I feel it best fits our music. But writing lyrics is not my main focus for certain. I like doing it, it also seems logical to me, that I myself write them, being the singer. Also, the words need to make sense and they need to be written in proper English. But I am no poet and I do not need to write lyrics to get stuff out of my system or anything like that. It is just one way to express my emotions.
Of all the songs Burden of Life has written so far, which one do you love the most? Why?
I think the two singles from “The Makeshift Conqueror”, “Geistesblitz” and “Trust My Own Heart” are my favourite songs we have ever done. “Geistesblitz” just perfectly encapsulates what we are about in 2020. That is the song I’d put on if someone asked me to show them some of our music. It has the weird progressive stuff but also the right amount of aggressiveness and melodies at the same time and the whole structure just makes perfect sense to me. I love “Trust My Own Heart” for totally different reasons. I am a sucker for a good ballad, and I think “Trust My Own Heart” is our best yet. I also love how it seems to appeal to a lot of non-metal fans, while its structure is still not strictly by the numbers. The sections often have an unusual number of bars, there are a few key changes and it takes a while until the first chorus hits. Still, people perceive it as very digestible, even poppy. Favourites among our older songs include “Devil In The Detox”, “52 Hz”, “Beyond The Breaking Point”, “Our Union’s Eulogy” and a few others.
Which one do you enjoy the least? Why?
I have a certain fondness for most of our songs. I can look at them for what they are and value them as pieces of the era they originated in. Still, I think most of our 2007 Demo is not up to stuff. Also, songs like “Dynasty Without A Future”, “Beloved Sanctuary” and “The Endless March”, while having potential, just fall flat in terms of arrangement, execution and production. Also, our EP “In The Wake Of My Demise” is a little “by-the-numbers-MeloDeath” from my current point of view. But the biggest offender in our catalogue, for me personally, is “Delusive Egomania”. It is the opening track of our second album “The Vanity Syndrome”, a full concept album. I am still immensely proud of that record. That is why, it pains me so much that the chorus of “Delusive Egomania” – and its title as well – suck sooo bad. The chorus was a very last-minute solution. It does not fit the rest of the song, which I still think is very good, my vocals sound horrible and strained and from today’s point of view I do not understand why we did it this way. Pressure of time, I guess. Ironically, it is one of our most popular songs, according to Spotify and Youtube, and I distinctly remember thinking it kicks so much ass when we released the album. If I could change anything in our discography, I would rewrite that song with a more fitting chorus. But it is what it is, isn’t it?
“Trust my own heart” is a ballad on the new album and it features Luisa Funkenstein as the female lead singer… This song already has a video. How fond are you of ballads? How did you decide to invite Luisa to sing along?
I have a huge soft spot for ballads, and I think they are a good counter to all the heavy and aggressive stuff. There are ballads on almost all our releases, and I like to think they are always some of the best tracks. Of course, you need that balance, as an album full of nothing but ballads would be quite a bore. Inviting Luisa was kind of a spontaneous no-brainer. I have played some shows with her band and she has been a good friend for quite some years now. So, when we decided to do that song, we first and foremost needed a pianist. She was an obvious choice and a few days before she came into the studio, I suggested to do the song as a duet. So, I adjusted the lyrics a little and when she had finished her piano parts, she went into the vocal booth and, being a true professional, she nailed it within a few takes without ever having rehearsed it. We are very happy with the results!
Who’s responsible for the lyrics… is there collaboration between the band members? Is the writing process a democratic one… each one contributes with something?
The lyrics are done by me, as is the music. However, I would never object to ideas from the other members, but this is just the way our writing process has developed over the last ten years. There are of course always discussions about the songs. I work on a song until I feel it is 90 to 95% finished and then I show it to the guys, and they make suggestions and then we discuss these suggestions. Sometimes I also play them a few riffs I am working on and depending on their reaction I choose which riffs I will work on next. I am very blessed to have these guys who really value and trust my musical judgment.
Under the “influences” on your Facebook page, there’s “Everything can be influential in its own way”. Care to elaborate on this? What influences / inspires Burden of Life?
The obvious answer to “what are your influences?” would always be a bunch of namedropping. Of course, we do have these influences as well, but I feel that other things apart from the artist you look up to will have influence on your creations. When I write the music for an album, there is always a certain feel to the songs within a specific time frame and that feel is created by not only the music I listen to at the time but also the state of mind I am living in. Am I happy where I am in my life right now? Do I feel isolated? Am I angry? Am I heartbroken? All these things find their way into our music and that is why I feel inspiration is more than just other artists’ music.
The band has kept a rather steady lineup, unlike many bands around. Has this helped Burden of Life somehow?
I don’t know if the band would still exist if it was not in this line-up. At a certain point we just knew, that this constellation will work out. Be it with all the hiccups and issues decade-long relationships will have to face at some point, it still works. So, I think not ever having to think about who will be sitting behind the drumkit for our next recording and such has of course made life easier for us as a band. Plus, we know each other really well at this point so it would be hard to get a “new guy” onboard.
The idea for your “The Narcissist” video is awesome and it turned out different and insanely funny. Some of your other videos include funny moments as well. How much humor is there in your life? Is it important to keep mental sanity?
Thanks a lot! We have always been a bunch of fun-loving people but back in the day we still liked to hide behind a stereotypical serious heavy metal facade. Don’t ever smile in the band pictures! For the last few years we have been abandoning that step by step. When we were discussing ideas for the “In Cycles” music video we just felt that the best way we could tackle that would be to just make it funny. Same with “The Narcissist”. It just has to match the tone and our current mood. And yes, we value humor a lot and feel that life without it would barely be worth living.
Your video for “Geistesblitz” is more professional and serious and it is one of your videos with most views. Do you think Burden of Life are finally getting the attention they deserve?
The videos for “The Makeshift Conqueror” are a lot more serious and down-to-earth, yes. The views are still climbing up quite steadily, which is awesome. “Geistesblitz” also recently became our most popular song on Spotify. In general, the feedback for our new stuff has been absolutely incredible. I do not know if we deserve the attention. I sure do believe so because I love what we are doing, and I think we are doing it well. But I am not the one to judge. It is always up to the listeners out there. However, seeing all this interest and positive feedback is really, really humbling and we are very thankful for that.
In today's musical landscape, your style would probably be defined as Melodic Death Metal but there are certainly also elements of other musical directions to be found. So, in your opinion, which would be the best definition for your sound?
While it is still rooted in Melodic Death Metal, I feel that term is a little too limiting. Nowadays, we lean more towards calling it Progressive Metal, just because I think out of all the usual tags, “progressive” best describes the blending and mixing of all the various influences we like to incorporate.
Considering the harsh times the world is living due to the corona virus, how much negative or positive impact do you think it’ll have on music?
I sadly feel that the influence on music will be rather devastating. In the current situation we are very lucky to not be financially dependent on the band. There are a lot of bands though, who are and not being able to play any shows – maybe the biggest source of income for many artists – is a huge issue. I am very anxious to see what awaits us at the end of the tunnel.
Most tours and festivals have been cancelled… were Burden of Life lined up to play at many events? Will they still happen?
We had some stuff in the pipeline, but this will sadly not materialize, given the current situation. We hope to be back on the stage when the time is right. But health comes first, of course.
What does Burden of Life do in these days of social isolation? Rehearse online with one another? Or are you preparing new material already?
We just had a Skype session a few days ago where we discussed what possibilities there are these days. We came up with some stuff and will share any new developments as soon as possible.
In your official Facebook page, you posted a picture of the band members and your mothers… how important is family support for you? Do you think you wouldn’t be doing this if they didn’t support you?
After having had this line-up for more than ten years, our release show on February 21st was the first time ever all our mothers were in the same room. So, we just figured we had to immortalize that moment with a picture. It was, of course, social media gold. Our families have always been supporting us and are very proud of what we have achieved. Our guitar player Michael’s father, for example, always comes by as a photographer when we play in our hometown. My elder brother is a musician as well and he has always been a big influence and inspiration for me and so on and so forth. We value the support our families give us a lot.
The band’s been active for a little over 15 years… what have you learned so far?
Oh boy, where do I start… I think the most valuable thing we have learned is that first and foremost the four of us have to be happy with any decisions we make. If we are on the same page, then there are rarely any regrets to be had. With this mindset we managed to weather through a lot of bad times, and we are still alive and kicking in year 16. There aren’t too many bands that survive that long. So achieving this longevity is maybe one of our biggest successes.
Your influences include Dark Tranquillity, In Flames, Children Of Bodom, Arch Enemy, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Metallica. Please name the album of each of these bands that absolutely made you “fall in love” with them, hence considering them an influence.
Oh boy, where did you find that? Considering our current sound this would need to be updated a little. But yeah, especially in the early days, up until the “In The Wake If My Demise” EP in 2010 I’d subscribe to these bands being our main influences. Most of them I still do like a lot, so here we go:
“Dark Tranquillity”: I think when I discovered them their current album was “Damage Done” but I feel that “Character” was the album that really did it for me. Later on, I also discovered “The Gallery” and I also loved “Fiction” from right when it came out. These four albums are still my favourites by them I’d say.
“In Flames”: The first albums I bought were “Colony” and “Reroute To Remain”. The latter had just come out, but I did not like it that much back then. I’d say that “Colony” and ”Clayman” were the two albums that I liked the most. Much like with “Dark Tranquillity”, I later discovered their older stuff, which I also think is great. The “Subterranean” EP, for example, is vastly underrated. Concerning their newer stuff, I sadly have to subscribe to the metal scene’s consent that it is mostly forgettable.
“Children Of Bodom”: “Children Of Bodom” were the first metal band I heard that used screaming vocals and they were far more extreme than anything I had heard before. The first album I heard was the then still-current “Hatebreeder”, which I still feel is mostly a phenomenal record. For a very long time they were one of my absolute favourite bands. I still like them a lot and I felt that their last few records were actually quite good. However, the triumvirate of “Hatebreeder”, “Follow The Reaper” and “Hatecrew Deathroll” will always symbolize what I love about this band and I still absolutely adore these records.
“Arch Enemy”: Out of all these bands “Arch Enemy” is the one that I can relate to the least nowadays. I feel they have always been a bit more formulaic and bland than many of their contemporaries but it did not bother me that much back then and I also feel that it has become worse over time. The album that really got me into them was “Wages Of Sin” and I still feel it is their finest hour. That album I still enjoy a lot.
“Iron Maiden”: “Iron Maiden” is still my favourite band of all time and I cannot begin to tell anyone what they mean to me. I love most of their albums and also have a soft spot for some of their more unbeloved records. I have known the “Powerslave” album since I was four years old and it is still my favourite album by them, maybe my favourite album in general.
“Judas Priest”: It is an obvious answer but “Painkiller” and “British Steel” are the first “Judas Priest” albums I thoroughly enjoyed. I still love the band and have also developed a fondness for their more scrutinized offerings. I confess, I LOVE the “Turbo” record. Wildly underrated!
“Metallica”: “Metallica” have also been there since the very beginning, much like “Iron Maiden”. The first albums I got to hear were “Ride The Lightning” and their self-titled record. Add “Master Of Puppets” and you have what I still consider their three best albums. Sorry not sorry to the Justice fans!
On 17th February 2007 your first totally self-produced album “Burden Of Life” was released. How big of a task was this? Why did you decide to release it independently? Who funded it?
That was an absolute amateur affair. There wasn’t much to fund because we recorded everything ourselves in our rehearsal space, which you can clearly and painfully hear. I remember that I wasn’t happy with it as soon as it had come out. We did not necessarily decide to release it independently. I think we just wanted to get it out as soon as possible and concentrate on new material and record our first proper album, as in retrospect “Burden Of Life” is more of a demo. Somehow, I feel, we also knew that the material and especially the production was just lacking so severely that no label would have wanted to release it anyway.
What’s the main difference between releasing an album independently or via a label?
I feel that these days the difference is not that big of a deal anymore. Back when we started out, getting on a record label was all that we were thinking about, feeling that it would open up a world that simply was not accessible to us on our own. Nowadays, having the internet, you can distribute your music more easily by yourself and get the word out more efficiently. Still, we feel that having a professional partner helps a lot in getting your music out to all the people and we personally have profited a lot from such a partnership.
The band’s worked with some labels so far but Noizgate Records released your last album “In Cycles” and “The Makeshift Conqueror”. How’s it trusting your work in a label’s hand?
Working with Noizgate Records is a real pleasure because they are lovely people who are also really dedicated to music, just like us. They believe in our vision, respect our artistic freedom and give us all the support they can muster. Just check out the sheer amount of reviews our latest album has gotten. This would have been impossible without their backing and we are eternally grateful for that.
The band’s been going into studios and working with people that really understand what’s best in terms of sound… how complicated was handing your work for someone else to produce, mix and master? Do you fully trust the people you work with? Do they fully understand where you want to go with your sound? Some bands say that the producer is like an extra member of the band, do you agree?
When it comes to our music, I am not ashamed to admit that I am a total control freak. I am in the studio throughout the whole process, apart from the mixing and mastering. The production is something I like to handle myself because I know the music like the back of my hand and always have my eyes on the bigger picture. However, it of course is very helpful to have a second pair of ears in form of a co-producer, like Rolf was on “The Vanity Syndrome” and “In Cycles” and Hubi on “The Makeshift Conqueror”, because like me, they are there for the whole process and we were lucky enough to work with people who were willing to really get into our music with us and help us out wherever they could. Also, for all the engineering and the technical side of things, I absolutely need someone like Rolf or Hubi because I don’t know anything about these aspects of a recording. I am more into composition, arrangement and stuff like that. Engineering, mixing, mastering… I am really glad that there are people who know what they are doing in those fields.
Being so much into depressive themes… do you think this social isolation we are currently facing will be something great for you? Or do you believe you’ll be less misanthropic after this virus goes away? I ask you this because I am not a people’s person either and I am already going crazy in just 5 days of isolation… I want to be near people already! Insane, right?
As we speak, I have been self-quarantining for eleven days and up until now I am still in good spirits. I love being out with friends, going to parties and also playing shows of course. But I am really lucky, in that I have never had issues with spending time by myself. There is always something to do and I am still quite okay with this life in isolation. I like to think I get to enjoy the best of both worlds.
When you started off the band, you were probably way too young… do you think that age, experience and maturity has helped you achieve the sound you were aiming for?
Oh, for sure. We learned as we went along, I like to think. Also, the sound we were aiming for changed from album to album. Back in 2008 we did not necessarily want lots of clean vocals, flute solos and odd-time signatures in our songs. It was much more straight-forward. Now we want all that and so we just go and do it. So, there is no great scheme behind our development, it just happens naturally, and we happen to love it. It’s as simple as that.
Your site burdenoflife.de hasn’t been updated ever since the release of “In Cycles”. Why?
Most people nowadays get their information from Facebook, Instagram etc. anyways so you could easily question the need for a classic homepage. However, we are working on updating our page right now and the idea is to mainly have it function as a hub for all our other platforms. We hope to launch that soon!
Please share some final words with our readers. All the best!
To all the insane persons who made it this far: I am baffled but also very thankful that you are that interested in what I have to say. If this made you curious: check our homepage www.burdenoflife.de! From there you will find links to Facebook, Instagram and also our bandcamp shop (www.burdenoflife.bandcamp.com) if you want to support us! Thanks to Sónia and the Pest Webzine, we appreciate your interest! Cheers!
Interview by Sónia Fonseca