MOB RULES – Beyond Convention
Active since 1994 and taking their name from one of the best Black Sabbath albums when Ronnie James Dio was at the helm vocally, Germany’s Mob Rules are a melodic metal quintet that traverse a wide sonic landscape not only album to album, but often song to song on said particular album. They can be progressive at times, straight forward at others- performing fast double bass material at one moment, then slowing things down for an epic ballad the next. Could make for a tough sell audience-wise, but the passion and musicianship have won the band a steady following.
Their eighth studio album "Tales from Beyond" comes on the heels of their "Timekeeper" box set featuring 3 CD and a DVD as a 20th anniversary celebration of what the band has accomplished. Keeping their originality in focus, the record may have a three-part title track trilogy and an opener in "Dykemaster’s Tale" that almost clips the nine-minute mark, but you get the feeling that Mob Rules wanted to keep a lot of these tracks in a similar melodic vein without veering too far left or right for cohesion sake. Rest assured fans of Iron Maiden, Queensrÿche, Savatage and the like will find loads of guitar riffs and hooks on a vocal perspective to latch onto with this record.
Reaching out to Skype with this interview during the week, guitarist Sven Lüdke has a measured voice that resonates with a good sense of humor. Prepare to learn more about the latest recording that was filled with pressure from a deadline perspective, how the band views the struggle to be properly categorized given the many elements to their sound, and what the future may hold as the band keeps going strong in their third decade of existence.
Can you tell us about your first memories surrounding music – how you discovered hard rock/ metal and some of your first album purchases? At what point did you move from being a music fan to picking up an instrument and playing?
"I started listening to hard rock and heavy metal music pretty early I guess. I was about 7 or 8 years old, I think it was Queen that was the band that I discovered first, "We Will Rock You" and stuff like that. Then I discovered AC/DC and I was absolutely into rock music, guitar-based music while my parents were listening to jazz and classical music. They didn’t know what was wrong with me (laughs). At that point hard rock and metal music started evolving and so my tastes went from there, Kiss, Iron Maiden, stuff like that. It was Iron Maiden and "The Number of the Beast" when I knew I wanted to play guitar and I wanted to make music. It blew me away listening to those songs, the guitar work and guitar solos, the melodies. I grew up in a very small village here in northern Germany where there were no guitar teachers. My father bought me an acoustic guitar when I was 11 years old, I tried to figure out some chords and when I was 16 my father bought me an electric guitar. The first years up to 19-20, nobody else played guitar around me so they couldn’t show me any exercises or techniques- I figured things out by myself. I bought a lot of books and videotapes, I have no formal training."
You joined the band in 2005 – were you a fan of their early material and what do you remember about those early days with the band?
"It was in 2004, I had been on tour with Mob Rules when I was on tour with another band called Murder One. So I got to know all the guys in the band, it was fun being on tour with them for 14 days. Years later (vocalist) Klaus (Dirks) called me on the phone, Olli (Oliver Fuhlhage) has left the band and how about you (join)? I knew the songs and discography, it was great. I got all the CD’s and learned the songs, it was exciting. A new challenge."
"Tales from Beyond" is the eighth studio album for Mob Rules, and first in four years. How do you feel the songwriting and recording sessions went for this record- any particular surprises or struggles that needed to be worked through, and what are some of your favorite songs in reflection?
"Yes. Writing "Tales from Beyond" was a little bit different then what we have done before. Normally we put out a studio recording every two or three years, and at the end of 2014 we released the anniversary box set. The record company asked us to bring out the next record as soon as possible, so we sat together in February of 2015 and talked about if we could do it as quick as possible. We had a lot of work, it was a lot of time to do the anniversary box set. We decided to do so with the recordings in February and they wanted the album mixed and mastered by December of the same year- so we had 9-10 months to write, produce the songs, mixing, mastering, all the artwork. It was very high pressure, but it worked out well as I had a bunch of ideas laying on my PC so we had something to start from. It was a lot of work, my favorite song on the record is one of the first two songs, "Dykemaster’s Tale" or maybe "Somerled", I love very much."
That is interesting that you love "Dykemaster’s Tale", as it’s a very long song at almost 9 minutes to start a record with. Are you conscious of song order when it comes to your records?
"While we are writing, we are just writing. We don’t think about in what order the songs are going to go. Whatever we feel and think that feels good, we go with. Once we are done we think about it. "Dykemaster’s…" is a very long song, but for the perfect order of the songs we thought it would be best to put it at the beginning."
How did the three-part title track develop – was it planned out or did you discover a particular theme as the writing of the three songs progressed?
"That was planned. I had a bunch of musical ideas, a melody and some chords, half a song. I have my own studio in my house so I can record all the time, I collect ideas. I had several ideas that came from one idea, it becomes three ideas. I thought we could make it three songs, but hear it evolve from the same basis. The idea was born about doing a trilogy. The lyrics are from (Jan) our keyboard player, he wrote most of the lyrics- he had read the book "The Martian" and he had the idea about writing the story of this guy being alone on Mars. So I thought ok, we have this musical three-piece idea, we could make some sort of trilogy and very loosely write the story around this."
I’ve always felt that Mob Rules stylistically sets itself apart from most German metal acts – in the sense that your songwriting has a lot of dynamics and contains elements of power, progressive, and traditional metal but one can’t necessarily pin down a ‘similar to x’ vibe. Does this make things difficult in terms of establishing a fan base – or do you believe the differences allow you to develop a faithful, almost cult-like audience?
"Yeah, it makes some things more difficult. You can’t point at one kind of fan, our records are so diverse from simple metal songs up to progressive songs, slow songs and fast songs. Sometimes it’s difficult for the people to say they like everything on the record. Like on the Radical Peace album we had a song that was almost 20 minutes long ("The Oswald File…"), but we have to do songs that we are satisfied with and make us happy. I think with the new album, the songs are more one direction of metal I guess."
What do you consider some of the personal highlights of Mob Rules career?
"I guess the highlight was playing in the USA- in San Francisco and in Atlanta, that was awesome. To come to America and play a show for a band like us that comes from the north of Germany- that was one of the greatest things. Writing songs, knowing people are going to listen to the songs, that’s awesome, I love it."
You’ll be touring in April with Axel Rudi Pell – what can the fans expect in terms of Mob Rules performance-wise, will it be difficult to come up with a set list because of so many songs to choose from in your discography?
"Yeah, that’s quite difficult, with eight songs to play songs from every album it’s not possible. When we are supporting Axel Rudi Pell we will be getting about 50 minutes, so you can’t play all the songs. It’s difficult to write a set list. Axel’s style is more the hard rock style, so we won’t play all the fast and double bass related material, I guess we will play more of the hard rock style stuff we have written."
Personally you enjoy a wide variety of music- from acts like Marillion, Dream Theater and Toto to Opeth, In Flames, Katatonia, and Evergrey among others. Do you think that open-mindedness has a subconscious influence on your diverse playing and songwriting abilities?
"Absolutely. If I was a person who just listened to say 80’s hard rock, my style of writing would be different. I love all kinds of music, whatever genre. I listen to jazz too. Like you said, it’s open-minded, you can imagine bringing anything into your music as long as you like it. I think it’s quite important to be open-minded as a musician, not just a metal musician."
Being a regular Wacken festival attendee beyond the times the band has been able to play there- what have been some of your favorite memories surrounding what many consider the best metal festival in the world?
"Last year’s Savatage and TSO performance was awesome. I could have cried, it was so brilliant. As well, Queensrÿche, I enjoyed their performance as well very much. Listening to the old songs like "Queen of the Reich" with the new singer who can sing all the old songs very well, it was awesome. There are a lot of great performances and concerts I have seen at Wacken. The Dream Theater performance last year was great as well."
What goals does the band set for itself – are there particular areas you would like to go to that you haven’t been able to?
"Playing live as much as we can, possibly again in the United States. This is a goal to keep the band alive- more and more bands quit and break up, it’s tough to make a living with music. One goal is to go on- we have been Mob Rules for 22 years and I think that’s a pretty big achievement, so we want to go on like that for the future."
How would you say the personal relationships are between the band members – is this an important factor to fueling the band’s longevity?
"Absolutely. We are not a band consisting of hired guns. We are all friends, we are all mates, we meet to write songs together and sometimes we meet to listen to records together and have a drink and party. I think it’s quite important so we enjoy what we do, we are friends and not just guys who are in a band together to do it for the money. We do this because we love it and we are fans together."
How do you feel about SPV as a record label in comparison to some of the other labels you were on before?
"The work with AFM who we were on before was great as well. We are very happy now with SPV, they really like the new album and they wanted us on their roster. Our A+R manager Olly Hahn, he stands behind the band and he does whatever is possible to help us."
Do you worry about what will happen to the metal genre when many of the older bands like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, The Scorpions, etc. will retire? Are there any bands that you believe could fill that arena headliner void in the metal realm?
"That’s a very good question. I am not sure if nowadays a band can become as big as let’s say Iron Maiden or Black Sabbath are. I don’t think there are going to be bands as big as those bands are. I have a lot of friends and colleagues who are in the promotion business and are responsible for organizing festivals here in Germany and Europe, and they are all complaining about what they are going to do when all the headliners stop working and quit music. They don’t know who they can get, there are no new bands that are as big as they are. It’s a pretty big problem."
Running a guitar school, what are you views on the younger generation learning their craft? Do you feel they are at an advantage given the many sources of learning materials available to them through social media and the internet beyond in person lesson work?
"Hmm. You can get all the information you need on the internet, I am quite sure. Whatever you are going to look for, you can find it on the internet. But some of the exercises with a teacher and the personal relationship is very important. Maybe even being a role model where they can see Sven is quite successful in playing music, having a band, producing shows, recording albums that are published worldwide- I think it’s important for them to have something to cling to. As a teacher I can look at their fingers while they are playing and see what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong, I can correct them at that moment. Youtube can’t do something like this- there are a lot of wrong exercises and not so good exercises as well, so I have a lot of students who tried to learn the guitar all by themselves through the internet and they come to my school after several years so I have to teach them how to do things properly. Re-learning bad habits, it’s easier to learn it the right way than re-teaching after several years. I’ve been teaching for 20 years, 10-15 years ago I had a lot of boys wanting to play rock and metal and playing fast and flashy. Nowadays I have more girls in my school, and they want to learn the acoustic guitars and the pop business."
What do you like to pursue in your free time when you have the time to do it to re-charge your batteries away from music?
"Most of the time doing sports, going for walks. If I’m not playing guitar or giving lessons, writing songs, I like to listen to music. I am a vinyl fan, I only listen to records at home and not CD. I read, walk with my wife, doing sports at the gym."
If you had to put three albums in a time capsule for the world to discover 100 years down the road, which records would you save and why?
"Oh, that’s quite difficult. I guess Rainbow – Rising. For me personally a very, very important album is Queensrÿche- Operation: Mindcrime. And I would guess something from Iron Maiden, let’s say- The Number of the Beast.
What does the rest of 2016 look like for Mob Rules?
"We have a booking company and they are just right now doing all the booking stuff. We will have our official CD release show near our hometown in March, the Axel Rudi Pell shows, a lot of promotion for the record. I hope a lot of summer festivals as well. We are planning to do a headliner tour in September-October, and playing as much live as we can."