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LUNAR SHADOW: Fire is Burning Within this German Quintet!

Interview with lead guitarist Max ‘Savage’ Birbaum by Vera in July 2019

Having that connection with the legacy of heavy metal, yet interpreting this matter in a very personal manner… That’s exactly what epic classic metal dudes Lunar Shadow present on their sophomore full length album ‘The Smokeless Fires’. They stand out in giving you a genuine timeless heavy metal album and that’s why we contacted founder and moving spirit of the band Max ‘Savage’ Birbaum, telling us about his demons, his guitar skills and his strict vision for this remarkable band.

How did it all start for Lunar Shadow?
I founded LUNAR SHADOW in my schooldays, when I was 17 or so. For years LUNAR SHADOW was only a name though, because I wasn’t able to find proper musicians in my rural area where I grew up. No one would listen to the same music as I did. I wrote a huge number of songs in those years, some of them you can hear on ‘The Smokeless Fires’, for example ‘Red Nails’ or ‘Laurelindórenan’ are about 7-8 years old actually. I then met our bass player Sven at Keep It True in 2012 I think. He introduced me to his twin brother Kay on guitar and Zehner on drums. Through a friend of mine I got in contact with our first singer Alex Vornam and at that point LUNAR SHADOW had become a real band with a real line up. Some weeks later we started the recordings of our ‘Triumphator’ EP and that’s how everything started.

Great! And the EP ‘Triumphator’ was followed by your debut album ‘Far From Light’ in 2017. How do you look back on this album and how was it received?
I think it’s a good album. When I look back now, there are some flaws and things that I think could have been better, for example the bass or the drum sound. But the album is like it is, because I wanted it to sound exactly like that back in 2017, therefore I wouldn’t change anything if I could. The reactions were very positive, I think we gathered many new fans with this record, for the first time we were featured in national and international magazines big time, lots of reviews, blogs and interviews. It was something completely new. I like ‘Hadrian Carrying Stones’ best on this album, I’m proud of this one, I think it’s one of the best songs I ever wrote and probably will ever write.

Unfortunately Max, you had to face some personal problems next. What happened?
In fact I had those personal struggles on ‘Far From Light’ already, that’s the overall reason why this album is extremely dark, it’s an album about death, because I thought a lot about death. Sometimes you lose people in your life, that are dear to you, that’s how things are. Some can take it better, some not. But things got better eventually, I got myself help and made progress.

But these hard times were a source of inspiration for the sophomore album ‘The Smokeless Fires’ isn’t it? Can we see the album as a kind of catharsis that helped you through the dark times?
It is more like a monument of the things that I achieved through therapy and several other changes in my life. It’s a very introspective album that deals with human understanding, our emotions, feelings, with love and hate, sorrow and anger. Yet some songs on it to me feel a bit like a cleansing, that is correct. ‘Roses’, ‘Pretend’…, those are very personal songs that are very important to me.

You also had to look for a new singer. Why did Alex Vornam leave and how did you find Robert?
I don’t want to discuss the departure of Alex Vornam in detail, there were personal differences between him and the rest of the band which led to him being replaced by Robert Röttig. Robert was a friend of the other guys, I didn’t really know him. He is the singer of Orbiter, a local 70s hardrock band and he had a good reputation as a singer, so I got into contact. At first he wasn’t too sure, he also didn’t know our music at all. But after he listened to it and after we rehearsed together for the first time we all knew, that he was the perfect choice for being our new singer.

What leaps to the eye is your ultimate personal touch in the guitar solos! Fervent when needed, but also bluesy and sensitive when needed. What are your influences as guitarist? At what age did you start to play guitar?
I started to play at around 10 I think, I’m not too sure, but I still play the same Jackson SLSMG for 15 years now, I never really found a better guitar for myself yet. My big idol on guitar would be Glenn Tipton, to me he is the most complete guitarist in heavy metal, extremely strong with his technique, but also soft, calm, wild, fast, slow. He’s incredible. I adore Mark Knopfler, the more bluesy parts are influenced by him definitely. Ritchie Blackmore with his way of riffing, Jesper Strömblad of early In Flames was a great songwriter. Andy LaRoque is also one of these very “complete” players that I like a lot.

We can also hear piano on the album. Who’s playing the keyboards and piano?
The piano parts were recorded at the working place of our drummer Zehner, for he is a piano builder. We used a concerto piano that costs 65.000 €, that was interesting, great sound quality. There were no keyboards used on this album at all. Daniel Delgado, a friend of Zehner and former fellow apprentice was so kind to record the parts for us, for none of us was able to play the piano.

A song like ‘Pretend’ stand out in emotions. Can you tell a bit more about this track?
‘Pretend’ deals with my personal struggles, it is a song about standing up after you fall, it’s about the struggle to go on in life, it’s about love that is gone, about helplessness and frustration.

Not so much black metal passages on the album, but when they appear they rule! Please tell us about your love for the Scandinavian metal scène…
It all started with bands like Dissection or Sacramentum for me when I was younger. This combination of extremely cold, vile and aggressive music mixed with actual melodies and structure instantly did something for me. I then quickly delved deeper into this genre, among my favourites after all these years are bands like early Enslaved, Dismember, Burzum, Darkthrone, Nirvana 2002, At The Gates or Gates Of Ishtar.

’Laurelindórenan’ happens to be a weird title… Tolkien fans? What is it about?
I’ve always had Tolkien-references in my music, his writings are extremely important to me. Laurelindórenan means “The vale of singing gold”, it’s the last refuge of the elves, where they spend their final time as a dying race.

What can you tell about the recording process of the new album? A comparison with earlier recordings might be fine too…
The album was recorded in Leipzig with a friend of mine. All in all it took us three months to record ‘The Smokeless Fires’, it’s not as easy for us as for other bands, for almost all the members of Lunar Shadow live apart from each other and it’s not always easy to find the time. Also, without wanting to sound like an asshole, our music is quite complex with many different tracks, twin-guitars and so on. Sometimes I wished I would play in a punk band and could only hammer down some chords and then have a drink haha. The fact that we took a lot of time can be heard I think, everything is at the right place and the sound is very warm and distinct. The mastering was done by Hakan Akesson in Stockholm, who also did the last Dissection album ‘Reinkaos’ and the ‘Storm of the Light’s Bane’ re-masters.

What about live experiences in the past for Lunar Shadow? Do you regularly play live? Are there plans for touring now in the near future?
We will never tour, none of us wants to do it. We will continue our way of handling these things, we will play very few selected shows every year, maybe two or three. And that will be it. We have two shows to be confirmed in 2020 already, I don’t think we will play in 2019. I’m not too eager to play live and I don’t see Lunar Shadow as a live-band.

Are there plans to create music video clips?
No. I hate these cheap-ass metal-video clips that 90% of all metal bands produce, where they stand in some sort of factory and try to look cool. Let’s face it, labels don’t invest much money into bands anymore, the past times are gone. I know some directors, a good video takes a budget of minimum 10.000 €. I don’t have that money, most other bands neither. But I won’t do a video that looks cheap and trashy just that I can say “Hey look we got a music video”, I don’t like that attitude and won’t participate.

What can you tell about the artwork and your cooperation with Adam Burke?
I didn’t want a heavy metal artwork this time, no swords, castles, barbarians and so on. I wanted, that the listeners couldn’t guess the genre from the artwork, therefore I knew that Adam was the right one to do it. We had already worked together on our ‘Triumphator’ EP and he did a great job. I always send him a really terrible sketch first that I draw myself and then try to explain to him what I want and what my ideas are. And luckily he is good enough to make something out of my disastrous writings and drawings haha.

If there is anything you’d like to add, feel free to do it here…
Thank you, Vera! Much appreciated, all the best!

Geplaatst door Vera op zaterdag 03 augustus 2019 - 11:24:15
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