by Niklas Göransson
Götz Kühnemund, heavy metal fundamentalist and key figure in the German metal media for three decades, speaks of the obsession that took him on a journey out of the mainstream and back underground.
The following is an excerpt from the full article, which is twice as long and published in Bardo Methodology #4. The same issue also includes conversations with PROFANATICA, PRIMORDIAL, SOLSTICE, Louise Brown, THERION, KATATONIA, BLACK FUNERAL, COUNTESS, Stockholm Slaughter, MARDUK, and TAAKE.
– I was eleven years old when I saw my first concert. My father took me to see the pop band SMOKIE and I freaked out so much that my parents said, ‘The little boy is losing his mind, he cannot go to concerts!’, so they stopped taking me. That meant I didn’t see Bon Scott when AC/DC were supported by JUDAS PRIEST in late 1979 and early 1980, just before he died. Bon Scott was my biggest hero so I went to my parents and said, ‘I’ve had enough, if I cannot go to concerts I will no longer attend school!’ So, we kind of made a deal and they said, ‘We’ll take you to a show maybe every second month.’ While I could at least catch KISS and IRON MAIDEN in 1980, there were still many other bands I also wanted to see.
Götz grew up in the countryside of what was then West Germany. While nearby Dortmund offered plenty of good shows, it was forty kilometres away – too far for him to make it on his own. In 1982, seeking to solve his transportation woes, Götz founded a fan-club called Metal Maniacs Germany.
– I was looking for people with a driver’s license who could take me to shows when my parents wouldn’t. No one was supposed to know that the so-called president of the club was only sixteen, so I tried making myself seem older. We had about two hundred members – everyone from Tom Angelripper (SODOM) and Mille (Petrozza, KREATOR) to the people who started record companies in Germany. You’d probably recognise about a hundred out of those two-hundred by name, it was a cool fanclub. But unfortunately, we couldn’t really meet because everyone was from all over Germany so I thought the idea kind of sucked and decided to turn it into a fanzine instead.
Metal Maniacs Germany #1 hit the shelves of record stores at around the same time as two similar publications – Rock Hard and Shock Power. The three editors got in touch and, after getting to know one another, decided to make common cause.
– After two issues of Metal Maniacs Germany, it was merged with the others to become Rock Hard. We started out as a fanzine with a thousand copies, after six or seven years we’d passed the 10,000 mark and after an additional three years we hit 30,000. Everything went really fast, but back then I was earning my money at Metal Hammer.
So despite being one of Rock Hard’s founders, you worked for the competing Metal Hammer?
– Yeah. When they asked me, it was because of Rock Hard – they knew it was a quite popular fanzine so they invited me to join them. Everyone hated Metal Hammer, it was the big commercial enemy but I had a friend there who spoke to me and said, ‘If you join Metal Hammer, we can have a regular underground feature in the magazine.’ The section was named Overkill and they asked me to edit it, so I accepted. I was looking for a job anyway and didn’t really know what to do. I was eighteen or nineteen at that time and it paid well enough to get out of the countryside and rent a little flat in Dortmund. Living in a big city and being able to see shows was an okay situation for three years – but at the same time, I really enjoyed Rock Hard more. It grew rapidly and when we hit 30,000 I quit Metal Hammer and then did Rock Hard for twenty-five years.
I’d heard that Rock Hard, at the peak of its popularity, was still completely owned by the three original founders. That’s a feat of which it’s almost impossible to find comparable examples, seeing as how the bigger media houses tend to usurp everything.
– That’s true, the three people who started it… they’re all still there so besides for me, everything else is still the same really. We always said no when big distributors wanted to buy the magazine, we talked to those people and listened to their offers but, in the end, our answer was always no. Rock Hard stayed a fanzine for most of its existence. Our best-selling issue was the one with Peter Steele (TYPE O NEGATIVE, CARNIVORE) on the cover, which sold 72,000 copies. We had a print run of about 120,000 back then – that was the best-selling issue.
If I recall correctly, there’s an interesting story behind that cover.
– Peter Steele sent me the CARNIVORE demo when it came out so I was a fan from day one. When I went to New York for the first time in my life I called up everybody whose number I had – including Peter – and tried to arrange interviews. By that time, in 1985, the first album just came out and Peter had shaved his head and gone skinhead but I didn’t know that. There was a CARNIVORE show at L’Amour East, which was one of the most popular concert locations in New York back then…
Isn’t that the place mentioned in “Unsuccessfully Coping with the Natural Beauty of Infidelity”?
– Yeah, right, that one. It was in a really, really bad neighbourhood – people told us we could only go there by cab. ‘Don’t walk there’, they said, ‘it’s really dangerous’, so it was a weird feeling going there to begin with. Upon arriving at the venue, I was surprised to discover that about seventy percent of the crowd were white power skinheads. The rest were long-haired, including me – I had long hair back then – so I wasn’t really feeling at home, to put it mildly. The atmosphere felt very dangerous, everybody was sieg-heiling and that was a really strange feeling. I’d called Peter beforehand so we had an interview booked for after the show. When we met, I mentioned having found the audience a bit strange and told him I’d always thought everything on the first album was only jokes and sarcasm. I asked him about that and he told me some stuff that was very right-wing. For instance, that he’d support any right-wing group there is. This was one of the sentences he used in that interview.
Once back in Germany, Götz wrote a story in Metal Hammer based on the interview.
– You know where I stand politically, right? You know that I’m a lefty. I’m not as bad as I used to be back then, I’m a little more tolerant these days. I wrote the article like what he told me – then the second album came out and TYPE O NEGATIVE started. When they came to Europe for the first time, the German antifa used my article to cancel some of the shows – which I thought was bullshit. I was still a CARNIVORE fan and wanted to see both them and TYPE O NEGATIVE so I didn’t think it was a good idea using my article to ban the concerts. So, most of their dates were cancelled. Then the second TYPE O NEGATIVE album came out and their record company called me up and said ‘Peter wants to meet you and talk about that old interview. He’s in Germany and is willing to come to your office, if you’re up for it.’
Consequently, Steele alongside keyboardist Josh Silver turned up for deliberations. Götz prepared himself by digging out the tape containing the old interview.
– First thing I did was play him the comments I had on tape. Then I said, ‘Peter, I’m still a fan of the band and we can talk about everything – as long as you’re honest and don’t tell me any bullshit.’ So, we started the interview and he explained to me that he was working as a park cleaner in New York back then and the foreigners were only causing trouble and he really hated all the other races. However, having now been to Europe, Peter said he realised things are a bit different to America and he could see that now and understood why I’d be offended by some of his remarks. Then I went to take a piss. My desk was really full of beer cans and ashtrays and everything, and in the midst of it all was the recording machine that I’d forgotten to turn off. I went to the toilet, came back and noticed the tape was still running. I didn’t mention it but pretended to put it on again and continued with the interview.
So, what did they say while you were gone?
– Josh went to Peter, ‘Should we be really honest or a bit more’… what’s the word, ‘diplomatic?’ And Peter said, ‘I think he’s an honest guy who really likes the band – let’s just tell him how it is. Fuck it, let’s just be honest. We don’t care and cannot help if he makes up shit, but I trust him.’ Hearing this as I was putting the story together meant I trusted him and believed everything he told me as honesty coming from the heart. The feature ended up a very long story in Rock Hard, the best-selling issue I mentioned. We put Peter on the cover and everything changed; the band became big, the antifa made friends with him and everything was alright. Suddenly there were no more problems and every time he returned to Germany, we always met and ended up becoming good friends. He was a really cool guy with an amazing sense of humour.
When I first heard of Götz, his persona was intimately connected with the Rock Hard brand. In 2013, after two and a half decades, he parted ways with the magazine.
– I believe THE DEVIL’S BLOOD are to blame. After hearing the demo, I became an instant fan and got totally hooked. To me, they are second only to IRON MAIDEN – the band that changed my life and are probably responsible for us two talking right now. Without MAIDEN there would be nothing, I think, at least not here in Germany. THE DEVIL’S BLOOD had the same impact on me and I went to every show I could. I felt like a little kid again and was really excited in the same way and Selim… one thing he taught me was that either you do things fanatically and without compromise or you don’t do them at all.
THE DEVIL’S BLOOD were scheduled to headline Rock Hard Festival in 2012. Shortly before it took place, controversy arose after Selim Lemouchi – the now departed founder and guitarist – reprimanded an obnoxious cretin who kept disrupting their set at the Bang Your Head festival.
– I sided with them and many asked me – ‘How can you take Selim’s side, someone who attacks his own fan? You can’t support people like that!’, and I said ‘I was at the same show, I saw what happened and if Selim hadn’t done it – I probably would have.’ I was in similar situations at other DEVIL’S BLOOD shows so there was no way I could defend the guy who got beaten up… and I know who that is by the way, he’s a troublemaker and someone who’s not my friend. So, I took sides and that caused a big problem. We had tonnes of letters coming in; plenty of supportive ones of course, it wasn’t all negative but it was dividing the magazine even further. In reality they were too small to headline our festival, but you can’t have a band like that in broad daylight so we put them on the evening stage. About two thousand people left the festival when they played, haha! But those who stayed went absolutely wild.
While Götz was re-living youthful nostalgia, there were others amongst the Rock Hard editorial staff with kids and families who desired to lead other lives.
– Then there was us in THE DEVIL’S BLOOD gang… about seven or eight people who were like me and followed the band around. We’d go to the festivals and have fun and talk about metal and still be the same as in the beginning. But when you have two separate teams under the same roof, you know that one day it won’t work any longer – we began having troubles within the family. There were people who wouldn’t care either way if we put WATAIN or METALLICA on the cover – it would be the same thing for them. Others would fight tooth and nail for their favourite bands – which is the right way to do it, I think. It just didn’t work any longer, is the short answer to that.
The first ones out of the door were Götz along with two others and, at that stage in the immediate aftermath, the evacuees weren’t sure if they’d be able to start anything new right away.
– Then eleven more people left with us, including Fenriz… so with our team of fourteen people, the only reasonable thing we could do was start a new magazine. We had a lot of support from the readers – about one thousand people subscribed to the publication before it even existed, and when the first issue came out at… I think Party San Festival four years ago, we already had about two thousand subscribers. I sold my share in Rock Hard and the money I got from that started Deaf Forever.
I spoke to a German friend who mentioned that much of the division was caused by the old Rock Hard crew believing metal to be just music anyone should be able to enjoy, whereas for Götz and his cohorts – those who went rogue – it’s something special that’s meant to remain outside the arenas of public acceptance.
– It’s true, and that’s one of the problems we had. Partly, it’s my personal fault; I did a TV program in Germany in the late eighties and I was a video… a VJ for a television show but at the same time I knew music videos were killing the spirit of metal, it was bringing what I love into the mainstream. It doesn’t belong there really. I did that for two or three years and of course it helped Rock Hard bigtime, it helped me personally too and I had several offers to return to television in the years after but always said no. I don’t think you should have metal videos on mainstream television – I don’t want to see VENOM in the news, I want to hear about them from flyers at a concert. I don’t want the Wacken people mixing with us.
Götz adds that all this might sound very arrogant and that he for the sake of transparency should declare himself as having been in with the Wacken crowd some twenty years ago.
– We used to present the festival with Rock Hard back then. But yeah… some of us woke up and realised it’s not all fun and games; it’s about being serious and truly loving what you do, making sacrifices for what you love… which every metal fan has done in his life, be it a girlfriend who doesn’t understand the music, a job you had to quit, or whatever. Everyone has made sacrifices for what they love, if they truly love it. Then Selim came along, you know, and he put it all on the map. I could no longer keep trying to hold those two worlds together, it didn’t work anymore. You had to choose sides – either this one or the other.
The question, then, might be where to draw the line between rebellion and outright crime. How can metal be both adversarial, violent, and scary on the one hand – while simultaneously drawing sufficient numbers to sell a printed publication to?
– That’s an interesting question, one I ask myself every day. I think that when you have the right mixture of people together at a cool festival like… let’s say Chaos Descends or Keep It True, places like that, you don’t have to ask that question because everybody knows what they’re doing. You don’t have the idiots around, so it’s not as if you have to explain to anybody what this or that band is about – there’s no need to clarify anything. The problem arises when people like you and I attend festivals such as Wacken or Summerbreeze; sometimes we become aggressive after looking at the stupid crowd and realising that they understand nothing. You know, I watched VENOM play at Summerbreeze a few years ago and thought it was pearls before swine. It’s completely pointless. I just wanted to walk out or beat up the people there because they don’t understand. And they ruin it for the few who do. But at the same time, it’s their thing. If I was fifteen years old I’d probably have fun at Wacken; It would be great to go there and get wasted with my friends and maybe get laid… I’d probably enjoy it, being a kid, so I think it’s a kiddies world – let them do whatever they want but it has nothing to do with us. Nothing.
I’ve gotten the distinct impression that Götz has a slightly conflicting relationship to his position as essentially the key figure in German metal media. For example, he detests being called a ‘journalist’, claiming far more affinity with the average fan than professional music writers.
– That’s another problem we had at Rock Hard. I always hated the word ‘journalist’; I mean, I’m not a journalist! I’m not doing this because I want to be objective about albums or whatever. Then we could sell stories. We’re the only established magazine in Europe that doesn’t sell anything. You cannot buy a poster, you cannot buy a front page, you cannot buy an article. Nothing. And I think every other magazine on the news-stands – not talking about fanzines of course – they all sell in one way or the other. And if I was a journalist, I could do that. I mean, why not? But I’m not, I’m a fan.
It’s interesting to behold how most British metal media appears to be struggling, whereas the German market still thrives. Götz believes the English-speaking publications to be the worst when it comes to incentive-oriented content planning, something that in turn has affected the entire scene.
– They sell everything. You cannot get a review in England if you don’t buy an advert, let alone a story or anything else. The English market is totally corrupt and always has been, from the very beginning and that’s changed the fans as well. You’ll find at the very most two thousand people over there who would read an underground publication like Iron Fist or Zero Tolerance. You could find a few who are waking up to what’s happening but not on a larger scale – it’s mostly the crowd who likes NIGHTWISH and all the English bands being hyped all the time. This was going on during the eighties as well, it’s not a new thing; I remember there were so many English bands that meant nothing outside of the UK. In England they were treated as if they were the new MAIDEN or the new VENOM… you know what I’m talking about. I think the English market is fucked and because of that, people think in a different way. In Germany, you have more people who know how the business works, really care about metal, still pay money for vinyl, and follow their favourite band around.
How has the internet affected metal media?
– Maybe the internet made it a little bit better? When I started out at Metal Hammer, it was the enemy – a big, commercial magazine run by people who didn’t know shit about metal, or music. Besides two or three co-workers, no one knew anything. Those who started Metal Hammer, they’re all gone now. They all left because there’s not enough money in the business anymore. With all the other magazines, there were so many idiots I had to work with. Of course, you always had the fanzines – the good people working in the underground. More editors are doing it themselves because the cost is lower and you can make an internet fanzine without spending too much money or risk losing all your fortune, so I guess it may be a bit better today.
I’d like to know what Götz sees as his own primary strength in his capacity as a music writer. Meaning – might it be his extensive knowledge about metal, actual language skills, or perhaps more how the interviews are conducted?
– There are definitely better writers than myself at Deaf Forever, we have a few who are truly excellent. The best is Manuel Trummer – the guitarist of ATLANTEAN KODEX, I wouldn’t say I’m as good as him. My advantage is that I’ve been around for so long that I know everybody and can talk to anyone. There’s zero difference to me if I talk to you or Steve Harris (IRON MAIDEN). I can ask about things others probably wouldn’t dare, and some musicians might not answer such questions from people they don’t know. I’d say that’s my advantage. Furthermore, I’m still a fan; music is the most important thing in my life. When I get up in the morning, the first thing I do is put on a record. Going to bed at night, the last thing is I do is turn off another album. My girlfriend is as crazy as I am, she’s a full-on metalhead as well, so my whole existence revolves around metal. That would be my quality, so to speak.
I was reading an internet-translated version of your German Wikipedia page – did I understand it correctly that you once got into a fistfight with Tom Araya?
– Almost, Jeff Hanneman held us back. The problem was that someone else from Rock Hard had done an interview with SLAYER about Pinochet, the Chilean dictator, and Tom Araya said really stupid things. The guy proof-reading Rock Hard back then put in a lot of comments about what was said and when the magazine came out, of course Tom Araya heard about the remarks because people told him. He called up the office and said, ‘This is full of shit, the guy who interviewed me never said a word and now you print a story full of comments that make me look stupid – I want to see Götz.’
Götz and Araya were previously acquainted, so when SLAYER next visited Germany they had a sit-down.
– I said, ‘I wasn’t the guy who put in the comments but I agree with some of them. As editor-in-chief I’m responsible so we can sit down and talk now if you want to solve the problem.’ So we talked and in the beginning he was friendly but got progressively more annoyed… not because of the comments, but because I questioned his intelligence. That is the worst thing you can do with Tom Araya, he believes himself to be the most intelligent person on the planet and if you tell him he’s not, he gets very angry. He grabbed a Coke bottle from the table and wanted to attack me with it but Jeff held his arm and told him ‘Don’t give a fuck, it’s just a stupid German journalist! How can you be so impulsive?’ And then Tom sat down again and we screamed at one another but at least no one was hit.
Have you had many of these disputes?
– With almost all big bands to be honest. Some are cooler than others but Joey DeMaio was really pissed off. The thing is, you can only criticise people if you’re a fan first. Had you gone to Lemmy and said, ‘I don’t care about your music but I think you’re an idiot!’, he would walk off laughing because it doesn’t have any… if you’re not a fan there’s nothing in that statement. But not if you’re a fan at heart and feel cheated, like I felt about MANOWAR twenty years ago when the band became too goofy and everything was lies. They recorded with a drum computer but wouldn’t admit it, and parts of their show weren’t live – which everybody knew but Joey refused to admit – along with a thousand other things.
This exchange ended up a rather awkward affair, where the colourful MANOWAR bassist refused to answer further questions, instead repeatedly announcing that he would die for metal and demanded the same pledge from Götz.
– Joey was very annoyed, yes. Glenn Tipton (JUDAS PRIEST) wanted to hit me once… I only said that they should have told Ripper Owens to sing the way he does on “Jugulator”, and not make him sound like Phil Anselmo. Ripper Owens can hit all the high notes but he’s not supposed to sound like Phil Anselmo. I also noted how Rob Halford had just put out an album, “Resurrection”, which every JUDAS PRIEST fan loves so why can’t he do it? He poured his red wine over my head and wanted to attack me but was held back by his manager. Some people enjoy having a discussion and appreciate talking about difficult things – like me and you I think, we would enjoy being attacked because then we can have a great discussion which would be far more interesting than someone only agreeing and giving you praise. Then again, a lot of people are not very self-confident and don’t enjoy arguments so they have no answer for it. Lemmy was always cool of course.
This is an excerpt from the full article, which is twice as long and published in Bardo Methodology #4. The same issue also includes conversations with PROFANATICA, PRIMORDIAL, SOLSTICE, Louise Brown, THERION, KATATONIA, BLACK FUNERAL, COUNTESS, Stockholm Slaughter, MARDUK, and TAAKE.