Interview || The one With Marc Görtz from Caliban


There’s no doubt that Caliban are veterans in the European metal scene. Their story begins in the late 90s and for over twenty years they have been releasing consistent material, thus becoming a household name in the European metallic hardcore scene. On May 14th, the German powerhouse dropped their recent album, “Zeitgeister”, an experiment which saw 7 reworked versions of their old material –this time with lyrics in their native tongue. “The whole idea was born some years ago when we had a radio interview in Berlin and we got asked why we didn’t do an album in German”, recalls Caliban guitarist Marc Görtz. “We’d always have one song in German for the last 4-5 albums and it started when we did the Rammstein cover”. The idea to create an album from scratch though wasn’t an easy one. The band’s vocalist, Andy Dörner, never wanted to sing in German on a permanent basis; while it would be easier for him to sing in his mother tongue, he's always felt more comfortable expressing himself in English, so the guys had to step up their game and make something special out of it. In this part interview-part therapy session, Marc dives deep into the lives of the band for the past year and the decision behind the bet that this EP was.

“Zeitgeister”, the spirits of eras past, encapsulates in the best way Caliban’s legacy; with a tracklisting serving as a selection of the finest elements from the band’s catalogue, it feels almost compulsory to ask; why now? “We were talking about this for quite some time and it took a really long time to choose the songs but I can’t really tell why now”, Marc contemplates. “It was supposed to be a longer break –if you look back, the last album was in 2018 and we usually release an album mostly every two years because that’s how we work; we have an album, tour for a year, do other stuff, then we get bored and sit back to write another album. This time we took a break and we wanted to be a bit more creative. I don’t remember who it was who said ‘now it’s [a good] time for the German thing' but this is the simplest explanation”.

With a mind always racing, Marc is not shy to detail the process and difficulties behind “Zeitgeister”, especially in relation to the songs. Caliban embraced a unique challenge; they were able to take some of their favorite and/or most important tracks that meant a lot to them, and instead of re-recording them, to transform them into something new. Each song still holds little details from the old song, like a melody line or a breakdown, but it is brought into the modern world. This decision, however, much like the creation of “Zeitgeister” as a whole, was far from easy. “We had a long discussion in the band how we were going to approach it because some thought we should re-record the songs [without changing them] and just have a modern sound, and others like myself who wanted to be creative [but] keep the spirit of the song. The songs in the past should sound like the songs in the past. I don’t like the idea to just re-record something, I think it’s lazy”. Re-writing the lyrics was also an important step -one that proved to be a rather long process as well; “It’s a collection of songs that mean a lot to us and/or songs that we think mean a lot lyrically also at this moment”, Marc explains. “Like, the first track that came out, “Intoleranz”, is more up to date than ever somehow with Covid and all the things [happening in the world] so we thought this was a song we needed to put on the new album and make a single as well. If you see how people behave, how selfish they are right now, we thought this was necessary and that was the reason for the other tracks too; they mean a lot to us music-wise, emotionally and, in most cases, both”.

Although Caliban have a very loyal following, they still had to tread lightly with their decisions in order to not face any backlash, a factor that added more to the complexity of putting “Zeitgeister” together. It’s no secret that European crowds can be a quite straightforward if they don’t like something a band does and that’s a landmine the Germans tried to navigate while staying true to themselves. “[if you re-record] a song from 15 years ago with the modern technology, it will sound different and will lose some of its charisma. I really didn’t want that. Imagine someone who listens to us for 4-5 years now and who [only] knows the last 2-3 albums. If they hear the songs that are 20 years old, it [will be] a complete shock, it’s a completely different band. If you hear [all our albums] you can hear the slow process from when we started to where we are now and I thought that [it’s so different that] a lot of people would not recognize the band. That’s why we did it this way and believe me, it took way longer to do this than it was taking to write a new album”.

Arguably, even Caliban themselves from twenty years ago would not recognize the entity they would grow to become or the things they have achieved. Even if the band can be their own harshest critics, underestimating people’s discontent would be a grave error of judgement. “Some people really have the idea they own the band, that they can dictate [how the band is supposed to sound] or that they can’t do this or that”, Marc remarks rather bitterly. “Well I tell you; I can and I will because I make the music for myself; this is what I like playing, this is what I like writing, this is what I like listening to. That’s something that always amazes me; of course not everybody has to like what we do but if they don’t, I’m sorry. I would prefer if everybody liked it but it’s not how it works”. Cynical, maybe, but the guitarist is nailing a widespread phenomenon that all artists will face at some point of their career, the thin line about whose desires and needs art is supposed to serve. Artists have grown familiar with naysayers or people who only prefer the old material but who, as long as they’re not dicks or offensive about it, are entitled to an opinion as much as a band is entitled to change. It must have become tiring to be asked, but Marc doesn’t think that a drastic change, such as a change of language, will ever be a reality for his band; “Definitely not. If we [were to] continue in German, we would have to rename the band or start something new because we started as an English band; if we switched that drastically, our international fans wouldn’t understand it”.

Over the past year and a half, the pandemic forced artists to reconsider their priorities. Some tirelessly wrote new music while others decided to sit on what they had until the timing was better, but a common denominator was usually the challenge of not being able to get the entire band in the same place and jam. For the German powerhouse, however, this obstacle didn’t hinder their creative process. Without any social distractions, the act was able to take advantage of the slow months to try and be creative. In this aspect, the pandemic was a blessing in disguise. You see, Caliban has never been the jamming kind. Rather, they prefer to rely on technology to do all the writing; Marc will write an idea and then the guys will have a say, sending tracks back and forth with comments or corrections, translated directly into programming instead of trying to communicate the idea for someone to play on the spot. Marc jokingly remarks that he himself can’t just push a button and get into writing mode, inspiration comes in different shapes and forms and, most importantly, randomly; “My wife hates it but sometimes I’m watching a movie when I get an idea, and I have to go upstairs and record it. For me it’s difficult to be creative on demand. It’s easier and takes less time to do it on a software”. The guitarist owns a studio and has been recording his band for a long time, except for the vocals which they outsource. He’s usually present when Andy Dörner records his parts and used to offer some guidance for the singing to match his original song idea. He wasn’t able to do so this time so he oversaw everything over the internet, referring to himself as a nuisance for the producer; “They will record something, and then I’ll make changes, and then they’ll record it again, so it takes more time because it’s a three-way thing”, Marc laughs. “And it’s a bit annoying and taking more time for the guy recording the vocals”.

While Caliban rarely have guests in their songs, “Zeitgeister” is an exception that sees a beloved figure return, who is none other than Matthi from Nasty. The first collaboration came in 2018’s “Elements”, and the anthemic single “Ich Blute Für Dich”. Marc laughs that he and the Belgian vocalist were actually introduced during a multi-player video game about six years ago, when former Vitja vocalist, Dave, invited Marc to play a round. That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, which eventually saw the guitarist working with Nasty on their recordings and playing festivals together. And your parents warned us not to trust people we meet on the internet…

Our final point of discussion is the limited edition wine that Caliban released ahead of the album hitting the streets, called “Zeitgeist”. As stereotypical as my question may be, I was genuinely surprised (and a little hurt) that they didn’t go for beer instead. “That’s a question you should be asking Patrick or Andy because it was a surprise; Patrick just announced it over our WhatsApp group”. While neither of us is familiar with the logistics of producing batches of alcoholic beverages, and although Marc believes it’s probably easier to produce a small batch of wine than beer, the guitarist is amused that people will often turn to him to ask about the specifics of the wine, its taste and the place of origin. A lesser known fact about him is that he doesn’t drink and is very conscious about the messages the band projects to impressionable audiences. “We really influence younger people who are fans of us with what we do and what we say”. Being a role model is important for the musician who, in a moment of introspection, opened up about his own struggles and experiences. Starting at the tender age of 12, and going strong for the next four years, the guitarist is brutally honest about his alcohol abuse, including drinking in school, and about the major part that bad influences played in that time of his life. In a turning point he quit and hasn’t drank since, aspiring to be a better influence to younger people than his influences had been for him. “To be honest, if I hadn’t stopped then, I would have been an alcoholic”, he admits and explains how his band aligns with this point of view as well, firmly not condoning the consumption of very hard liquor.

Closing things on a very lighter note, it would be impossible not to ask Caliban’s Spice names, had they been members of the Spice Girls; “Our bassist would be Grind Spice, because he likes grindcore, Denis would be Beer Spice (laughs), Andy would be Weird Spice because he is very introverted and everyone thinks he is weird when they first meet him, and Patrick would be Bike Spice because he likes motorcycles”. As for marc himself? “I’d be Game Spice!” he laughs.

Before wrapping our conversation up, the guitarist brought up that he was pleased with the reactions he'd seen so far about "Zeitgeister" especially from their international audience and that their fans should trust them with the direction of the next Caliban release. "As I said ["Zeitgeister"] is an EP, not an album, and our fans shouldn’t be worried; the next, 12-song full album is pretty much ready -and in English".

"Zeitgeister" is out now via Century Media Records.

All pictures courtesy of Dearohwell photography.


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