Melodic Death Metal has seen many bands come and go in its nearly thirty-year history. Some of them have made the breakthrough, others have been justifiably long forgotten. And then there are those few bands that would have deserved to become big, but today are known only by the fewest.
Among the latter are the German Melodic Deathers BEHIND THE SCENERY, which were mainly active from the mid-nineties to the mid-zeroes. During this time, the Swabians released three great albums, featuring an extraordinary mix of complexity and progressiveness on the one hand and heaviness and catchiness on the other.
The story of BEHIND THE SCENERY tells of a band that has always gone its own way, even if that way could not always be followed by all of its members. It also tries to fathom why this band, despite very good reviews and a constant musical development, has never been as successful as it would have deserved.
Founding of the band (1994 – 1996)
It all started in 1994, in Göppingen, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany. In the beginning, the young musicians were trying on a rather wobbly mixture of Thrash, Doom and Death Metal. Some line-up changes later, the introduction of new guitarists in 1996 brought a clearer line with them, which led to new songs. The five boys, with a fable for the then still in its infancy Swedish Melodic Death Metal scene, were one of the first German bands of the new genre.
The official founding members were Holger Speidel (vocals), the twins Uwe Kurz (drums) and Andreas Kurz (bass), Thomas Lindberg (actually Thomas Hauschild, lead guitar) and Till van der List (rhythm guitar).
“Nocturnal Beauty of a Dying Land” (1997)
The idea of recording a first demo quickly culminated in the decision to make a complete album out of it. And so, in May 1997, the young musicians barricaded themselves for five days in Nightmare Studios, Fautspach. The debut “Nocturnal Beauty of a Dying Land” was produced by Eckie Erlenbusch (who produced the GRAVEWORM demo, DAWN OF DREAMS and END OF GREEN, among others).
The song material is obviously influenced by Swedish stylistics, but is not limited to the then just emerging and trendy Gothenburg style. “Nocturnal Beauty of a Dying Land” already shows the first signs of the later even more pronounced technical and progressive structures in songwriting. DARK TRANQUILITY and OPETH may well have been among the main influences of the boys. On average, the songs can be described as melodic and yet brutal, thanks to a certain impudence and the voice of Holger Speidel, who acts in the intersection of Thrash and Black Metal, reciting elaborate lyrics.
From today’s perspective, this may sound like the standard Gothenburg scheme. To understand how novel and unusual BEHIND THE SCENERY must have sounded for the audience at the time, it should be remembered that the songs were written in 1996 and 1997, respectively at a time when IN FLAMES had just released their first album with Anders Fridén, DARK TRANQUILITY did not process gothic elements yet and even OPETH did not release perfect Prog-Death masterpieces constantly. Against this background, the musical level of the debut is all the more impressive, even if the unique style of the band should still completely unfold on the next record.
The release of the album in October 1997 was handled by the band itself, as well as the distribution. The good reviews, including the Legacy magazine and Metal Invader, surely have pleased the band, as well as the good sales figures (over 2,000 pieces).
Further development and record deal (1998 to 1999)
The guys promoted their first album through extensive tours, together with bands like APOPHIS, MIRROR OF DECEPTION, EVEREVE and END OF GREEN.
Tragically, bassist Andreas Kurz was diagnosed with tinnitus and left BEHIND THE SCENERY in the fall of 1998 for health reasons, but also due to musical differences.
At this point in time, the band already had been offered first record deals, but no decision was made here yet. Instead the band focused on writing new songs.
In 1999 bassist Guntram Berger took over the vacant position. He had enjoyed a classical music education and thus contributed to the further development of the musical level of the band.
Finally, the band decided to accept the offer of the Nuclear Blast sub-label Grind Syndicate Media. Part of that deal not only was the pre-financing of the next album, but also a re-release of the debut in September.
“… of Honesty Forbidden” (1999/2000)
Thanks to the label’s advance payment, the band was able to take two weeks to record their second album “… of Honesty Forbidden” in August 1999. Once again, Eckie Erlenbusch was entrusted with the production, especially as he had since set up his new SubZero Studio. The better technique can actually be heard on the album.
But also the songs are on a higher technical level. The compositions are progressive and technical to the limit, poaching in classic climes, slightly melancholic and yet hard enough to take the fans of the debut album on the exciting journey. All instruments were recorded very accentuated and precisely, what even gives the album a hint of DEATH. Special emphasis is put on the recurring acoustic guitars, the intro and outro of the record, which were composed by guest musician Johannes “Amadeus” Biedert and played on the piano. The impetuousness and wildness of the first record is continued not only by the vocals, which have improved significantly and are clearly understandable (therefore some Black Metal fans might be a little bit pissed of by the lyrics of “Pure Evil”).
The path already hinted on “Nocturnal Beauty of a Dying Land” culminated in an exciting and unique style on the new album, which is perfectly staged by a powerful production and a transparent mastering. The latter, however, delayed the completion of the album due to technical difficulties.
At the end of 1999 the band suffered a heavy setback at the guitar front, as both Thomas Lindberg and Till van der List left the band to concentrate fully on their studies.
“… of Honesty Forbidden” was finally released in June 2000, almost three years after the debut. The reviews in well-known magazines, such as Rock Hard, Legacy and Hammer, were good to very good.
Band vs. everyday life (2000 – 2002)
In 2000 Simon Abele joined the band on lead guitar and Stefan Horn (a good friend and former band colleague of bassist Guntram Berger) joined in on rhythm guitar. They not only filled the empty positions, but also brought new influences and a lot of understanding for harmonies with them. Since mastermind Thomas Lindberg had returned to the band in the meantime, BEHIND THE SCENERY now had the luxury of having three guitarists on stage, in order to be able to adequately present the complex songs and layered melodies in a live environment. This is exactly what they then did extensively, with the Summer Breeze also for the first time at a big festival.
In the following years, however, the guys encountered a problem that almost all bands have to face at some point: everyday life. Studies and full-time jobs could hardly be reconciled with the “hobby” band in the coming years. Various moves of places of residence by band members complicated regular rehearsals and composing. Only four new songs were written between the years 2000 and 2002.
In May 2001 the band’s first music video for the song “Pierce the Eyes” was released.
In 2002, guitarist Simon Abele left the band in favor of his education.
But at the beginning of 2003 everybody agreeed that a new album should be recorded in the summer. Within a few months five more songs were written, additional three just in time for the recordings.
Since the deal with Grind Syndicate Media had no option on another album, the band decided to finance the production itself. The production took place from August 2003 in the band’s own rehearsal room. Mixing and mastering was done at Stonehenge Productions, Bonn in 2004.
The finished album once again sounds different from its predecessor, even if you can easily recognize BEHIND THE SCENERY. The final product continues to contain the already beloved trademarks – albeit in a more modern and less sinister version. Added to this is the courage to experiment extensively and to create more diverse non-Metal influences from e.g. Jazz, Prog Rock (here the Swabians clearly followed OPETH) and Alternative Rock. At the same time, the material is more accessible than before. A relaxed instrumental, a song in German and female guest vocals (in English and French) are further elements that make this album enormously varied.
After the delayed completion of the record, Thomas Lindberg contacted Supreme Chaos Records, which released the album within the shortest time. The third album of BEHIND THE SCENERY finally released in December 2004, more than four years after its predecessor.
The album title “Rétroviseur” (rear view mirror) stands for the past years, their manifold influence on the songwriting and the sound of the band as well as the phases in which the songs were written. The term Melodic Death Metal is still applicable for “Rétroviseur”, but the new song material polarized. Or rather, this was the response expected by the band, but the actual reviews were usually very good to exuberant. The slightly thin production (especially of the drums) was pretty much the only criticism that the reviewers could agree on.
Decay and disbandment (2005 – 2007)
In January 2005, Christoph Rogler joined the band as the new third guitarist, who is a friend of bassist Guntram Berger.
The band spent the first half of 2005 with various performances and promo work for the new record.
But then it suddenly became noticeably quiet around BEHIND THE SCENERY. Now you might think that breaks were not unusual for this band. But in January 2006, the website announced that vocalist Holger Speidel has left the band due to musical differences.
I can only speculate about the reasons here. However, based on the previous history of BEHIND THE SCENERY, it seems reasonable to assume that the band evolved into an even more experimental and Metal-atypical direction that some bandmembers probably could not identify with any longer.
This is also supported by the fact that both Holger Speidel and bassist Guntram Berger had already joined the Göppingen based band THE QUEST, founded in 1999. The band played a more thrashy and less progressive form of Melodic Death Metal. From summer 2005 to 2006 they recorded a demo.
In May 2006, BEHIND THE SCENERY named Immanuel Rein an interim singer, but continued to search for a permanent substitute for Holger Speidel. Immanuel Rein is a founding member of THE QUEST.
In September 2006, guitarist and songwriter Thomas Lindberg left the band. At the same time Immanuel Rein was promoted to the permanent vocalist of BEHIND THE SCENERY.
In March 2007 it finally came, as it unfortunately had to come under these circumstances. BEHIND THE SCENERY withdrawed from the music scene. The reasons given were, in addition to a lack of time and spatial differences, above all incompatible views on the musical development of the band.
The (for the time being) last concert of BEHIND THE SCENERY took place in July 2007.
After the end (2007 – 2008)
After THE QUEST released their demo in 2007, drummer Uwe Kurz and guitarist Simon Abele joined the band in July.
Although THE QUEST was now mostly composed of former BEHIND THE SCENERY members, the band did not want to be understood as the successor to BEHIND THE SCENERY.
After a few concerts in 2008 it got very quiet about THE QUEST, so that one could only assume their disbandment.
This is also supported by the fact that guitarist Simon Abele and singer Holger Speidel founded a new band ATHEAN in the same year (in which they payed homage to Chuck Schuldiner’s DEATH).
Failed restart (2011 – 2012)
In July 2011, more than four years after the official disbandment, BEHIND THE SCENERY announced their return in a press release. In addition, the musicians also indicated that they were already working on the fourth album, set to be released in 2012 on Serial Six Records. The recordings of the drums had already begun.
A closer look at the new lineup reveals that it was exactly the last cast of THE QUEST, consisting of the two BEHIND THE SCENERY founding members Holger Speidel (vocals) and Uwe Kurz (drums), long-time member Guntram Berger (bass), returnee Simon Abele (guitar), Immanuel Rein (formerly vocals, now guitar) who had just come aboard, and Marcel Renning (guitar) who had not yet appeared at BEHIND THE SCENERY.
On YouTube, the band posted a video with audio samples, albeit with the indication that these are raw versions only that are subject change. The songs were written by the guitarists Simon Abele and Immanuel Rein.
In April 2012, the band announced on Facebook that the guitars for the new album are done. But already in June a delay for the planned album release was announced.
However, this was followed by no further messages about the new album or the status of the band.
What had happened? During the production there were differences between drummer Uwe Kurz and parts of the band. He was then replaced by a new drummer, who was technically well versed, whose previous experience, however, were limited to Jazz and Big Bands. At this point, singer Holger Speidel was not interessted in recording vocals for the band any longer. Since now none of the original founding members of the band was involved, both the recordings and the reunion did not take place.
Some of the songs that had already been written for the album were later used by Simon Abele for the band ANDSOLIS on their only album, released in 2015.
Return to the stage (2017 – 2018)
The musical differences of the musicians, during the recording of the planned fourth album, had not resulted in personal disputes. And so in March 2017, five years later, the men came together for a performance as BEHIND THE SCENERY to celebrate the album release of the Göppingen based band STAHLMAGEN. This was followed by another concert in April, this time as support for singer Holger Speidel’s band THEREIN, which he had joined in 2012.
In November 2018, BEHIND THE SCENERY played at a STAHLMAGEN album release show again. On Facebook, the concert was announced with the words “Maybe the last chance …”.
Status quo (2019)
At the time of publication of this article in December 2019, this announcement seems to have come true, because the band has not since reappeared. According to some band members it is not unlikeley that the men may play one or the other concert in the future, but there will definitly not be another album.
BEHIND THE SCENERY are officially still considered active …
BEHIND THE SCENERY never had the success they deserved, despite very good reviews. The main reasons were probably the big time gaps between the albums and the seemingly abrupt stylistic developments. Also, the complexity and the non-Metal influences certainly did not promote the acceptance of a broad audience within the Metal scene. But this acceptance does not seem to have been given priority by the band, which in turn meant that they could always do their own thing.
However, one must also emphasize that the musicians often stood in their own way. Be it through the many changes of the line-up or, especially in later years, the disagreements over the musical direction for the band.
BEHIND THE SCENERY enriched Melodic Death Metal with three varied and great albums, which still stand out from the mass of releases due to their unique style.
In addition, with their second album “… of Honesty Forbidden” they have created an extraordinary masterpiece of Melodic Death Metal, which will forever be one of my absolute favorites.
Thank you, BEHIND THE SCENERY!
I make no claim to completeness and correctness of the information presented here. I am happy to accept suggestions for corrections!