BRAINSTORM’s Torsten Ihlenfeld talks about ‘Wall of Skulls’, the music industry in a pandemic and the secrets of a stable line-up

Just being back from the Rock Castle festival, Brainstorm guitarist Torsten Ihlenfeld could make a bit time for Markus’ Heavy Music Blog. Of course it is interesting to get some first-hand insights into the process of the creating the new longplayer ‘Wall of Skulls’. Next to that the impact of the pandemic on a metal band is what this interview contains as well as the secret of a very stable band line-up.

Markus’ Heavy Music Blog: Hello Torsten, great that you can spend some time for Markus’ Heavy Music Blog. The first question these days is of course: how are you?

Torsten Ihlenfeld: I’m fine, thanks for asking. Somewhat away from the all-time highs, but quite purposefully optimistic.

MHMB: Looking back on the past months we see that the pandemic had and still has a lot of negative effects on the music/event industry. Now, you are a musician, but also in charge at El Puerto Records. How much has all this affected you and are there also positive things we can take with us from the last months?

Torsten: What the heck should you take as being something positive from the last few months, other than hopefully being healthy or healthy again. I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way. If you were aware earlier, that our scene, our music culture, is just looked at as a tolerated sideshow with strange black-clad, often long-haired individuals, you notice, as being an active part of the scene and earn your living with it, that this kind of culture is apparently not worth supporting. It hurts every day to see how colleagues, real specialists in their field, with decades of experience and well-positioned companies, stand in front of nothing, completely without their fault and unpredictably, while other industries were subsidized and supported in the blink of an eye. I don’t want to say that help never arrived, but the number of examples where nothing happened is frightening. With Brainstorm, we have fought our way through the last months as well as with my label, but ‘great’ is something different than that.

MHMB: You just came back from Rock Castle Open Air, your first live show after 20 months. How excited were you before you entered the stage?

Torsten: A little bit of a thrill is always there, but I would rather call it pleasant excitement and yes, what can I say, it felt amazing to finally play live in front of an audience again. We are a band that loves playing live. We need the contact with our fans, the stage and the adrenaline, we need it like the air we breathe. It’s good to see that it can work when the people in charge and the organizers don’t have to deal with artificially created restrictions and requirements. No one is saying that you shouldn’t be careful, present good concepts and set an example, but sometimes it seems as if the greatest effort is being made to prevent culture and a little more normality, as long as it has nothing to do with elegant evening dresses and red carpets, culture from the so-called ‘middle of society’. Culture develops its full bloom only by the variety of a culture landscape.

“We need the contact with our fans, the stage and the adrenaline, we need it like the air we breathe.”

Torsten Ihlenfeld

MHMB: If one looks at the photos from Rock Castle, it was almost like in the old days. Was the old spirit immediately present again or did it take a while?

Torsten: No, immediately. That’s the beauty of it. Everyone, whether in front of or on stage, was looking forward to the event, to live music, real people, a bit of normality – and everyone enjoyed it a lot.

MHMB: Did you already play a new song and if so, how was the audience reaction?

Torsten: Yes, we played ‘Escape the Silence’ for the first time live in front of an audience. The song had already premiered at the streaming show at the beginning of the year, but the live premiere was at the Rock Castle. And what can I say, the reactions to the new song, and the feedback afterwards in the social media, was great. Of course, we are very happy about that.

MHMB: Torsten, let’s talk about the new album ‘Wall of Skulls’. Tell us a little bit about how the album came about.

Torsten: Well, we were lucky enough to be able to play the live shows for ‘Midnight Ghost’ almost completely, except for the cancelled festivals in 2020 and of course everything that was cancelled afterwards. But by not playing the shows, we were able to completely focus on the songwriting process. We made use of it very intensively, exchanged a lot of ideas, sent them back and forth or jammed and worked on them in the rehearsal room.
Basically, we didn’t change much in the songwriting process. Milan and I worked on the riffs and the basic song structures before we handed it over to Andy, who worked on the vocal lines. We also met in my basement-studio for fine-tuning and arranging. Then I took it all back to the rehearsal room and the final details were polished. So, in our case it’s tried and true. Never change a winning team, so to speak. 

MHMB: If I know correctly, the album was supposed to be released a few weeks earlier. What led to a later date?

Torsten: The general situation on the vinyl market with overloaded pressing factories, shortage of raw materials and accordingly longer delivery times. We wanted to avoid that the vinyl format will be available for our fans later than CD and digital. Fortunately we managed to keep the delay within limits of just 4 weeks.

MHMB: On the one hand, I think the new album is straightforward and to the point. At the same time, it is varied which speaks for the quality of the band. For example, there is the anthemic ‘Solitude’, the already mentioned ‘Escape the Silence’ and the epic ‘Glory Disappears’. Did you deliberately tinker with such a range of variations or was it more of a natural process. Or does this have to do with the fact that you were able to take a little more time than usual for the album?

Torsten: A little bit of everything I would say, but least of all it was consciously steered by us. We always cover the broad spectrum on our records that you’re describing here, because then it sounds and feels like a complete Brainstorm album to us, but this time – and we all agree – we somehow managed to do it especially well.

MHMB: Extra time can also lead to constantly questioning things and getting lost in detail. How did you avoid this, because ‘Wall of Skulls’ sounds like from one piece?

Torsten: Yes, that’s exactly what we wanted to achieve with the album. No unnecessary ballast in the songs, no unnecessary parts, always keeping in mind the goal of writing a thrilling song without getting lost in too many details, but also not being too predictable. We wanted to make every song an all-round enthralling entertaining experience.

MHMB: The album also contains a new feature. Brainstorm have invited guests. Now, the contribution of Seeb (Levermann) may seem logical since he also produced the album. But how did the cooperation with Rage mastermind Peavy come about?

Torsten: We are very proud that both collaborations worked out. We have not been known for having guests on our albums, but this time it just felt right. We asked Peavy because the song was screaming to have Peavy sing the middle part and it’s a great honor to have an icon of German metal on our album. Yes, Seeb may seem logical, but we didn’t want to overdo it in any way. With this song it just fit like a glove. Seeb is one of the most capable producers, blessed with a lot of talent and know-how and is an incredibly good musician and singer too.

MHMB: If you listen to both songs, one has to say that Andy’s voice harmonizes very well with Seeb and Peavy. Can you guys imagine doing more of these collaborations in the future?

Torsten: Of course, we can imagine it, but it must fit like with ‘Escape the Silence’ and ‘Turn Off the Light’. We won’t do any cooperation just because of a possible name dropping.

Photo: Alex Kuehr

MHMB: Brainstorm is one of those bands that has a very stable line-up for a long time, which certainly has a positive effect on the new songs too. What is the secret of such a stable line-up and what do you do differently than some other bands?

Torsten: I don’t know, honestly, why it doesn’t work for other bands with a stable line-up. Too many egos, too different visions, you never know. Besides the love for music, Brainstorm has one thing in common: true friendship beyond the music. We can criticize each other sometimes, without it causing bad blood or beef, as they say these days.

MHMB: You are planning the tour for the new album, a journey that will take you through Europe. How optimistic are you that the shows will take place?

Torsten: Unfortunately, not optimistic at all. We had to cancel or postpone the tour in the meantime. The pandemic numbers are getting worse, the requirements for clubs and production are getting higher again, the uncertainty also of the fans is noticeably bigger. 3G* or 2G*, soon possibly even 1G*, distance concerts, seated, beer-tabled, with binoculars, separated by plexi-glass, full-body-condom-concerts, … the actual concert experience takes place only on the sidelines. And we would like to offer ourselves and our fans an unrestricted live show with fantalks, a beer afterwards and a great atmosphere. We have seen that it can work.

MHMB: Torsten, thanks for making some time and good luck with the new album.

*The German abbreviation of vaccinated, recovered or tested (Geimpft, Genesen, Getestet)

Photo (cover pic): Markus Wiedenmann

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