Markus Ullrich & Troy Norr


Already can be referred as the harbingers of their own kind of horror, the multi-national group of wicked Metallers, Them, return with their undying character evil doer, but with good intentions, KK Fossor. Resurrected by a chemical spill, it is up the Fossor, and his companions, to put an end to the decedent of an ancient enemy, and the battleground, NYC of the 1980s. Steinmetal had a great pleasure to talk once again with the two artistic brainstormers, Markus Ullrich and Troy Norr about the next chapter in KK Fossor, and Them, titled "Fear City"
October 24, 2022
Them's Markus Ullrich: "When I wrote the intro I thought exactly something like…it should sound like an unreleased score from a Carpenter movie" interview
Hello dear gents, how have you been? It is that time again, for a shop talk about what happens in the world of Them, I trust that you are ready as you were the last time

Both: Hello Lior, all is fine here

Back in the day, I had the pleasure to explore the final chapter, "Return to Hemmersmoor", of the grand epos that started back in 2016 with "Sweet Hollow". It was at the thick point of the pandemic, quite a surreal era that in a way ended at the beginning of the year. How do you sum up these last couple of years?

TN: Trapped and Tortured is the way to sum it up. We had just started recording RTH when the pandemic hit. We still met our deadline with the label despite a global pandemic. Yes, we are dedicated to our craft!

MU: And it was the same with the new album. There was no chance to play so shows so we started to work on the new album pretty soon after RTH had been released.

How did that era of humanity affect you mentally?

TN: It was a depressing time for me personally.  Working on RTH was the best therapy that any doctor could prescribe! When I wasn't working on RTH, I was walking my Great Dane (180 lbs) Niyah or working at my day job.  I went in every day during the pandemic.

MU: It really didn't hit me that hard. I also took long walks with my home, read lots of books, watched some shows, wrote music, listened to my vinyl. I'm somebody actually enjoys being alone, but of course I also missed hanging out with friends.

It never crossed my mind that the next Them adventure would be a time travel forward in time, and needless to say to the early 80s. Quite spectacular I might add. The introduction of "Fear City", along with its fine artwork, took me straight away to one of the great action movies made in the early 80s, John Carpenter's "Escape From New York". Is there even the slightest relation to the hit movie, perhaps as an influence on the "Fear City" theme?

TN: Actually Fear City is a continuation from RTH.  KK Fossor dies at the end of RTH but is resurrected by a toxic chemical spill that occurs right outside the town of Hemmersmoor and that is where KK was last seen before getting sucked into the earth by the Crimson Corpse in RTH. There is homage to 80s cult favs on in this segment of KK's journey such as Escape from NY, Return of the Living Dead and The Warriors. We love horror so that was a fun aspect in the creation of this album.

MU: When I wrote the intro I thought exactly something like…it should sound like an unreleased score from a Carpenter movie. So yes, you're absolutely right :D

Even if the world that you created within "Fear City" is fictional, there are facts within the scenery, which is how New York was referred to in the early 80s. What exactly in that time and place, in one of the harshest eras of the city, took your notice, your interest in continuing KK Fossor's story?

TN: Actually with the other albums the same applies.  There are facts with location and the story surrounds those facts.  Personally I remember walking through various parts of NYC during that time period with my Father including times square and china town.  I remember the prostitutes, pimps, drug addicts lining the streets.  I remember walking through China town and looking down some dark alleys.  I remember the smelly subway system. (Update: The NYC subway still smells like piss)

To my amazement, and for some reason I didn't think he survived, KK Fossor lives right from the 19th century, seeking vengeance. About Fossor, in general, I can only assume that his character will be immortal in a way? Will he always find a way to be back on the scene, no matter where or what?

TN: KK is a man with powers. He did die at the end of RTH but was resurrected into the 80s by that toxic chemical spill. He could die again. KK's quest is a continuation of his desire to destroy the man who destroyed his family at the beginning of our first album "Sweet Hollow".  Since it is 100 years into the future, KK must destroy what's remaining of the Peter Thompson's Bloodline which will be Thompson's great, great grandson Minster Thompson, the televangelist.

I wonder, and perhaps I have a memory gap over the last "Return to Hemmersmoor", so please bear with me, why is it so important for KK Fossor to kill that televangelist character, the descendent of the Witchunter? What is the purpose in that? What will he achieve other than vengeance?

TN: Thompson was the man who extinguished Elissa and Miranda König during the Hemmersmoor Witch Trial back in the album "Sweet Hollow".  There was a cat and mouse chase from Manor of the Se7en Gables through Return to Hemmersmoor but KK got the short end of the stick when the Crimson Corpse tricked him into thinking he resurrected his daughter Miranda's soul into the decaying vessel of Mary Hawthorn (The girl KK Sacrificed at the end of Sweet Hollow).  KK's love and devotion for this deceased family never wanes during his quest no matter what time period he is in.  He must destroy the bloodline of the Thompson family to bring justice to his deceased family.

Complexity has always been in the company of Them, breaching borders that are way beyond what Power Metal offers, one of the band's strongest suits. "Fear City" displays a form of massiveness and progression, intensity to the side of bombastic features that turned out flamboyant. To refer to the music on the album as challenging might be a good way to go, yet, there are also a lot other aspects within the release that contribute to the overall result that is "Fear City". Would you say that the musicality of "Fear City" is the next step in the ladder for Them?

TN: Ulle will go in detail on this answer but for me, I am really excited and proud how THEM has evolved musically.  I always have loved dynamics in music.  I feel we accomplish that with the diversity of music we offer the listener.

MU: Thank you for your nice words. What I like is that we're able to do what we want. It's not the thing that you write something and somebody in the band is not able to play it or doesn't understand what you want to say. Same with the vocals. When I write something super aggressive, then Troy is able to use his „thrashy" voice, but he is also able to sing super melodic. I personally like a lot of different styles, even within the metal genre and I love to integrate that in our music.

What I enjoyed about "Fear City" is heavier than the previous albums, but also immensely melodic, two power points that at least for me are a must, in particular when there is a good story involved. From your end, what makes "Fear City" a unique kind of album musically?

TN: Another one for Ulle to go deeper into but for me when compared to the other THEM albums, I feel there are more progressive elements on this album on top of some death metal vibes.  What a combination, eh?

MU: There's a doom part here, a black metal riff there and some progressive or thrashy parts somewhere else and with Retro 54 we have our version of a classic Hard Rock song. The only important thing is that it flows and that it fits to the story. When you listen to a lot of stuff, there are many influences. I never understood musicians who say that they don't listen to other music, since they don't want to get influenced. Most of them seem to record the same album over and over again, so that's probably not the best decision. Well, I say if you listen to A LOT OF different music your own song will definitely benefit from that fact. Be open minded but keep your focus on what you think is important for your own style.

Maintaining that certain flow of the story, along with the music to contribute its part for telling the tale, seems to me to be quite the challenge, and in "Fear City", with everything nearly on high octane, there is a lot to cover. How were you able to keep the story flowing and music in cohesion to the scenes changing?

TN: I use a large white board to summarize the story as it is written. The song placement (musically) is very important because the music helps really the mood during a particular part of the story.  I feel with this album we have achieved an album with numerous potential hits while maintaining a movie score feel.

MU: Well, I agree :DWhile we work on an album we communicate on a daily basis. It would be impossible to do it without the constant interchange of ideas.

Troy, I have to tell you sir that your voice is undying, and may it continue to flourish going forward, as I believe that you have a lot more to give to the world of Metal as part of the Them camp. Please indulge me sir, how do you do that, keeping your voice like that? I still remember your singing in Coldsteel, perhaps I mentioned that earlier.

TN: Yes, I remember you mentioning your memories of Coldsteel.  It feels like decades ago. Oh wait, it was! There are points in time where I stop singing.  I defuse from music and when I return for creation or tour preparation, I have a routine I follow for warming up and building my voice back up to where I left off when I stopped singing. A similar way someone who would approach lifting weights again after a hiatus. Thanks for the Kudos! I appreciate positive comments.  It means I might be doing something right!

Markus, the never-ending flow of riffs, and lead guitar licks, within "Fear City" is outstanding, along with your partner in crime, Markus Johansson, you perfected a series of moments that I just can't shake from my mind. What can you tell about the riff writing for "Fear City"? What were your prime influences making these crispy notes become monstrosities?

MU: Wow, thank you so much!

There are always riffs and song fragments in my head and I collect all the ideas on my smartphone. I always start with the beginning of the song and then I wait what comes to mind. I never collect riffs and throw them together, it's always a beginning and then I move on from that point. I try to come up with stuff that is not typical but always try to let the song flow. It's important to me that a verse is identifiable as a verse and a chorus is undeniably a chorus when you listen to the song in an instrumental version. When a song is five minutes long there's at least 10 min. that I simply throw away. Maybe because it sounds like something I already did, like something that people would expect or maybe it just doesn't have the flow that I wanted to achieve.

Taking a stronger hold within the songwriting of "Fear City", the keyboards, played by Richie Seibel are a lot more felt and noticed. What was your approach with keyboards for "Fear City"? What did you try to emphasize? By the way, my early reference to "Escape From New York" was also due to the keyboards

MU: Yep, that was the aim. Since it takes place in the 80s we wanted those typical sounds. You can't hear it on every song, but there are moments on the album where the keys scream „we're in the 80s!".

Recruiting a powerhouse to your ranks, you brought in Death Dealer / Ross The Boss skinman pounder, Steve Bolognese. The energies of "Fear City" are intense, and parts of it are thanks to Bolognese's amazing playing. What is your take on him joining the band, along with his contribution to the record?

TN: I am sure Ulle will comment on this one too.  I love Steve's style.  He is all business when the drum sticks hit his skins.  Steve was more than prepared when Tracking Fear City and is itching to perform with THEM live!  Steve, like all other THEM band members had contributed his special talents to the creation of this album.  Personally, I love everything he created!

MU: It's amazing what he did. When I write songs I always add some programmed drums so that everybody's able to hear what it „could" sound. Of course that doesn't mean that I want it THAT WAY, it's just so you can hear a raw version of the song. Steve totally did his own thing and came up with some phenomenal ideas. A killer drummer!

Going straight away to some of the songs, I will start with my top selection, "191st Street". Musically, this is one of the closest examples to perfect songwriting. The music, along with its suspense, is a driving force, while the vocals, and overall lyrics are hooking and inspiring. The solo section, along with the pushing rhythm, nearly devoured me. What is your take on this particular song?

TN: Ulle might feel the same as me when I say this might be my favorite song on Fear City. Also Grafitti Park! 191st Street might take a few listens for it to sink since there is a long intro but the hook lines drive the point home and the proggy feel is fantastic!

MU: Glad you like especially that song since I always knew that most people would take the obvious choice when it comes to their personal highlight. Most would say Retro 54, which is obvious if you don't dig deeper. 191st Street was one of my faves from the beginning since the structure is so different than how you normally would write a song. An almost proggy intro, two different pre-choruses and I absolutely love the vocal melody in the chorus. Sounds almost bittersweet and has a killer hookline.

 "The Crossing Of Hellgate Bridge" is where everything meets, plenty to listen and see within this epic tune. As if all that Them stands for is transmitted within the echoes of this track, and you have a lot to offer, and more to come I am sure. What can you tell about this epic from your end? What can you share about its songwriting process?

TN:  The lyric sheet was like a mini book. 9 pages I believe when I went into the studio to record.  I had gotten a cold and had to reschedule this song and I am glad I did.  I am very pleased how everything turned out on this epic track created by Markus Johansson.  I kid around with him about it being so long (over 9 minutes) but nonetheless, the song is Epic and I am proud of his inclusion of this monster track.  This track was the most challenging song I have ever written vocals to.  If you listen to the music only, it could be an instrumental. In order to write a cohesive vocal line, I broke
down each section by time and studied each individual section before writing a single melody or lyric!

I know that you are probably working on it as we speak, any hints of the next in line story after "Fear City"? It doesn't look like a done deal for me

TN: Now that is the beauty of each THEM album.  Each one is left on a cliff hanger thematically.  If there is a desire to continue as a band then story can continue.  If not, the story can be interpreted as the end.  I have followed this pattern to make things interesting.  There aren't many bands in music history that have done something similar and we are one of those bands.  Would I like to see it continue? Sure! Could the story continue in a horroresque, action packed way? Sure!  Time will tell what happens next. But rest assured, it could continue…

Are you planning to support the new album, along with the previous ones, going to set stages on fire soon? Is that live mode on?

TN:  We have an updated EPK and hoping to perform sometime in 2023! Remnants of the Covid crap still prevent us from booking a tour since the band is split up between 2 continents.

MU: We'd love to play some festivals and a tour, but right now with all the bad pre-sales for tours it's simply not that easy. Let's just hope.

Gents, once again thank you so much for your time and patience. I can't wait to be set on fire from the next Them epos, please hurry back. Cheers

TN: Thanks for interviewing us. It is always a pleasure answering your questions! Cheers!

MU: Thx to you. I love it when people don't ask the usual questions and dig deeper. Awesome!

When clicked, this video is loaded from YouTube servers. See our privacy policy for details.


crossmenucross-circle linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram