Michael «Mick» Böttcher was initially writing new music for his thrash metal band Free Key Bit Chess, but ended up with something completely different. And when he met Thomas «Thomen» Stauch a new power metal band was born. Here is the story of Dawn Of Amber in Mick and Thomen’s own words.
Dawn Of Amber is, as it says on your FB-page, a new power metal band from Germany. First of all: what is it with Germany and power metal? Historically there has been some great bands from your country, how would you describe the scene nowadays, and is the genre as popular as before? Has anything changed?
Thomen: I think German metal musicians simply just like power metal a lot, it’s as simple as that. Maybe they just have a preference for power metal, just like Scandinavian metalheads have a bigger preference for death and black metal. I don’t know. I mean, of course there is still a big music scene in Germany, as there is in the whole world as well, but obviously, some things have changed a lot.
What about the possibility to make a living from your music? It is still there, but the chances became much smaller, since, with the age of internet and self-publishing rates there are much more bands to compete with. Bands get paid worse, because of too high download rates and bad contracts from their labels. The labels usually don’t want to risk anything, anymore! At least it seems like that. I personally think that the new modern world offers a lot of advantages, but also disadvantages. Let’s keep it as it is, because that’s life, I would say! To explain everything concerning this matter would definitely go beyond the scope of this interview. I believe I´d have to write a book about it, to explain everything I think about it in details!
And to continue my FB-search, it appears that the band was founded this fall. Could you tell me some more about the history of Dawn Of Amber?
Mick: To be honest, it all started without the idea of forming a new band. I played in a thrash / groove metal band called Free Key Bit Chess and I just wanted to write songs for a new album. I was lucky that some friends provided me their vacation home on the island La Palma [Canary Islands], so in 2015, I went there with my guitar, my mobile studio and started to compose, 14 days straight completely on my own. It ended up with 14 new songs that had nothing to do with thrash.
Despite this insight, I presented the ideas to my band and I still remember the reaction of our drummer Harry Bischof: “This is incredibly good stuff, I did not expect this!”. However, this was absolutely not our style and useless for the band. From this moment on it was obvious to me that I wanted to create my own album.
I was back into power metal, which I used to listen to a lot when I was young. The next thing I did was adding some orchestration to the music, it sounded so cool yet very strange, because the drums were still like “bum tam bum tam” throughout the whole songs. Back in 2014 when Serious Black started to work on their debut album at Dreamsound Studios in Munich, I met Thomen and Roland Grapow. We had an incredibly funny time there, so I thought I should ask Thomen to play the drums for me. He didn’t even listen to my stuff before he said yes – I still remember it very well: “Mick, I am sure it must be something decent. Let me listen to it, but I can’t imagine this to be bad”. Thomen already had left Serious Black at that time and didn’t want to start a new band anymore, because of all the disappointments with some of his last bands had led him to a point where he wanted to give up on his profession as drummer. I had to accept his decision, though I didn’t like his idea of giving up. Nevertheless, it was okay for me, because I also did not think of forming a band at that time. I just wanted to have cool drums for my songs.
In 2016 we met in Meerbusch and started to work on the drums. It sounded incredible to me, and Thomen had so much fun playing the stuff and re-arranging some parts. That was the point where the songs started to come alive in my opinion. The best thing was that Thomen wanted to help me find a singer for the project and it almost felt like we were starting a band, although I always had in mind that he doesn’t really want that anymore; and I had promised him before to not trying to convince him. But, when he even came up with the idea to bring in his ballad, that he had been working on for a long time, because it originally was planned for Savage Circus, I knew that the idea of probably building a new band must have come nearer to his mind. The song I´m talking about was “A Shadow’s Serenade”, the ballad from our 3-song video teaser. I immediately liked that song a lot. Thomen had sung it completely as working vocals and I knew, if we’ll find a singer that will be able to sing this ballad with as much emotions as Thomen did, then this emotional song could grow to a kind of hymn for our band, as “The Bard’s Song” became for the Blind Guardian fans.
However, the next step was that we tried some singers, but unfortunately it didn’t feel right in the end, because we wanted something very special. The problem is, the best singers are always busy. One day – we already booked the Spacelab Studios to record some vocal ideas on our own – I got a call from Thomen at the airport in Munich: “Mick, Moschus [Christian «Moschus» Moos, studio owner] says he has a singer who would fit perfectly to our music, and he will be in the studio tomorrow morning”. His name was Carsten Schlu. And this changed everything, because his voice was so different compared to other singers. We recorded some demo takes and asked him if he would like to join us. He agreed and this was some kind of turning point. We decided to record three songs together and the project became a band, because even Thomen confirmed to join as a band member at that point. A few months later, Thomen met his old friend Benedikt Zimniak…
Thomen: Yes, indeed! A common friend of Benedikt and me celebrated his birthday in July 2018, in a huge venue in Saarbrücken. I was playing some Blind Guardian songs that night with several other invited musicians from the music scene. Alex Landenburg [Rhapsody, Kamelot, Cyhra] also should have played there that night, but unfortunately he had to cancel it just some days before, because he got asked to play the Kamelot tour as substitute for Casey Grillo and he agreed, of course! Well done, Alex!
When I left the stage that night, a strange bearded guy with short hair suddenly stood in front of me! «Hey, Thomen», he said with a serious face! I must have looked at him as if I would have seen an alien, haha! I really didn’t recognize him, but I knew I’d seen him before. Then he almost yelled at me: «Thomen! It’s me, Bene! Are you kidding with me?». I started to laugh my ass off and couldn’t believe I really hadn’t recognized him. When we toured together with Savage Circus and Tomorrow’s Eve in 2007, Bene played bass guitar for them, but back then he had had long hair!
Later that night, we enjoyed an excellent catering and had several chats about the past years and what our musical activities currently was. I told him about Dawn Of Amber and that we still needed a second guitarist, so I simply asked him if he would like to listen to our stuff and if he could imagine to join us. He liked the idea a lot and 2 days later he received the song material we had so far and he was totally enthusiastic and immediately agreed on my offer! Now we were again one step further….we had become an almost complete band. Just a bassist was still missing, but as it looks, we have found the right one, but it’s still not 100% official.
Thomen, I must ask you: how have the years since you left Blind Guardian treated you? What have you been up to, and have you all along known that you would be in a band again?
Thomen: Oh, my dear! To explain everything 100% understandable, I would probably need weeks. So, I better try to keep it as short as possible and explain it the easiest understandable way: After having left Blind Guardian, I simply surrounded myself with too many false and unreliable musicians that dealt dishonestly with me throughout those years. Bad experiences that have made me wiser and smarter since then, and hopefully will warn me to be more careful with my future activities.
You describe your sound as “power metal in a unique sound: melodic, aggressive and modern”. Having heard the pre-production teaser, I must agree. The foundation is power metal, but you have clearly mixed in some other elements. When the band was founded what was the idea musically; how did you come to the conclusion that “this is how we want to sound like”?
Mick: When I started to realize that my project will end up as a power metal band, I always had one premise in my head, which most musicians tell you: “Let the sun rise in the chorus”. I found this kind of funny, because, when you listen to the guitars in our songs, it’s actually the other way around. The guitar melodies are very depressive in the choruses, and this was my initial intention: “let the sun SET in the chorus”.
As you might know, Thomen is a really experienced and brilliant songwriter and wanted to find some cool vocal melodies on the songs. But it wasn’t that easy in the beginning, because the songs were somehow overloaded with lead guitars. It was like a jungle you had to find your way through, but it finally worked. In my opinion, there is nothing better than working together as a band in the studio. One simple initial idea can be the start of several further brilliant ideas and this was actually the case when we worked together. The best example was when Carsten started to growl and scream a verse, Thomen and me, absolutely not prepared for it, almost fell off from our chairs, saying yes, that’s it, this is really something different.
Yes, about that: the vocalist, Carsten Schlu, is truly showing some great skills being able to growl and at the same time have that clear power metal sound. Whose idea was it to combine those two vocal styles?
Mick: It was pure coincidence! In the studio we were searching a vocal melody for a special part of “Shades Of World’s Demise”, when Carsten suddenly wanted to try something out. He did something really “unexpected”! We were all speechless and blown away! It was exactly what we were looking for. He started to scream and growl this part as if there was no tomorrow. That was the moment, where Thomen and I knew, he’s the perfect vocalist for our music. But to be honest, besides some vocal ideas I played with my guitar, it is Thomen who writes almost every vocal line for our songs. Together with Carsten’s growls and screams, they both build a perfect team to compose great vocals for our songs. In my opinion the right mix between power metal and melodic death. Carsten has an incredible strong voice; I have never heard someone that versatile and yet passionate. He knows how to sing, scream and growl! Thomen’s vocal lines and Carsten’s voice made my songs come alive in a way I never could have imagined.
Thomen: Yeah, Carsten has an incredibly versatile voice! When Mick recorded Carsten’s voice for my ballad “The Shadow’s Serenade” I was totally flashed! He was the first singer who understood the emotions I delivered on the working vocal tracks and who finally even brought in some more emotional moments as I did. Carsten has a brilliant and pretty unique voice. I love to listen to it and I love to work with him. Always prepared to crack a joke at the right moment! Such a funny guy!
How has the work with the debut album been like? For how long have you been working on it, and how has the recording process been like?
Mick: The first two years it was more a project as you know, so we can say that we have been working about one to two years with the album. We decided first to focus on three demo songs which are virtually “finished” – always subject to change – and now we are working on another 7 or 8 songs to finish the album. Recordings are done in Mick’s studio in Munich and in Viersen, but as I said, we work directly together whenever possible. Bene will come to my studio several times the next months to finish the songs, before we will enter the studio for the final recordings of the album next year.
Who writes the lyrics, and what is the overall concept of the lyrics about?
Thomen: To be honest, there is no overall concept for our lyrics. Everything is possible and we usually work together on it. Even my wife supports us regarding the lyrics, since she reads a lot and as a novelist she brings great inspiration to our lyrics. So there are many possibilities: from themes about well-known novels to own created fantasy and horror stories. The lyrics I had written for the ballad got changed by my wife a bit, too. She’s simply more experienced in writing than me, I have to admit. But the subject remained the same, so it tells about a man who has lost his faith in life. He suffers in a desolate darkened world, completely left alone, but trying to find a way out. As you can see, we have almost no restrictions there, just the same as for our music.
When will the album be released? And what is the title, how many tracks, and in which formats?
Thomen: We still don’t have a record company for Dawn Of Amber, but we will start contacting them soon. Finally, all depends on the contract and promotion plans we’ll arrange with the label. The typical thing as always. Which formats of the album will be released also depends on the label and type of contract. The only thing I can tell you at the time being, is that we plan to record about 10 to 12 songs for the debut album and that we definitely won’t release any song that doesn’t satisfy our musical demands and imaginations. We’d rather deal with a delayed release or a song less, than having any filler on the album.
You have released a video showing a glimpse of what we can expect musically, but in your own words: how would you describe the forthcoming album?
Thomen: That’s a question which is pretty easy to answer! The songs will be very melodic, versatile, powerful and aggressive. Everything is possible in our songs, since we’re open for every kind of special idea or gimmick and we didn’t set ourselves any restrictions for our music. As long as everybody in the band likes the idea and agrees…we’ll go for it!
What plans do you have for concerts and touring? Is that something you will focus on after the album is released?
Thomen: Yeah, of course we’ll be touring at any point after the release of our debut album, but at this time it’s still too early to talk about it more detailed. First, there are surely several more obstacles to remove in the way. We’ll see what happens and which opportunities we’ll have after the release. Maybe a support-tour or whatever.
Thank you very much for the interview and your interest in Dawn Of Amber.
To all headbangers out there in the world who love melodic, versatile and aggressive powermetal –
WE WON`T DISAPPOINT YOU! STAY TUNED!