» Axel A.J. Julius - Scanner
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Interview conducted March 03 2015
Interview published March 11 2015

Those legionaries known as Scanner from Germany are ready to break the seal, and fight the bastards in order to promote their latest release 'The Judgement'. This retaliation positive seems to have come from out of nowhere. However, this Massacre title is by far their best effort in decades.

Mainstay member Axel "A.J." Julius has put together a strong act, and written some amazing songs. I had the opportunity to contact him to discuss his frustrating past and hopefully promising present. We focused on those maniacal vocalists from previous albums, and the turn of the tide which led to the discovery of his excellent new front man.

We discussed what it meant to be locked out by Noise Records, while travelling with warped sentiments, hoping to carry on with the 'Hypertrace' style, but arriving at a teminal dearth of inspiration; resulting in the disbanding of song and substance, in favor of ego driven ideology. We touched on the risky Massacre albums with some mental reservations, and then focused on his latest material. Come join the challenge to overcome misconceptions, and find a curious charisma abounding.

MettleAngel: Hey Brother, I wanted to tell you how much I enjoy the new album. I have been a lifelong fan of the band, and supported all of your endeavors. I truly appreciate your willingness to take the time to answer my questions.

Axel: Thank you Michael, I will try to answer all your questions fairly and honestly.

MettleAngel: I appreciate that! I realize that now you are the sole survivor of the Scanner legacy. I would like to discuss your debut 'Hypertrace' which is such an amazing album, I would like to ask you a few questions pertaining to this release, if you do not mind.

Axel: I am very proud of my songwriting on that album, so please feel free to do so....

MettleAngel: I still have my original Noise pressings both on CD and tape. My CD actually came from Colombia House Records Trading Club. Recently I purchased the excellent Divebomb Records remaster of this and 'Terminal Earth'. I was wondering why exactly did Michael Knoblich leave the band?

Axel: Well, Michael left the band because he was totally disappointed about Noise Records at that time. I had a big discussions with him about remaining with them and us, at least until the next album was finished. The label had promised to make a video for "Across The Universe" which they did not fulfill.

MettleAngel: That sucks! First they release the concept album with the tracks all in the wrong order, then they do not even follow through with making that video!

Axel: Michael was totally upset about it and did not want to spend some more efforts for this company. And in a way he was right, but I did not want to break our contract with our young carrier by revolting against our record company at that point. I accepted the compromise to remind them about their promises, committments, and duties to us; hoping to get a better option for the next album.

MettleAngel: I have heard from several acts singed to Noise at this times like Rage, Deathrow, Sabbat, Tankard, etc. about the bullshit they went through with Noise. I can understand why you were willing to stick it out, though.

Axel: However, Michael did not accept my view of things and he opted to "leave the building", so to speak. We were literally in a discussion at the round table in our bass player Martin Bork's kitchen when he stood up and left the apartment and was never seen again.

MettleAngel: So he literally left the building! It is true that Ralph Scheepers filled in and overdubbed some of Michael's vocals?

Axel: Ralph had supported Michael in the studio, because Michael was experiencing difficulties with his vocal cords shortly before the recording session of 'Hypertrace' commenced. Consequently, our producer wanted to use Ralph as a back-up. Nobody could say at that point if Michael and his vocal cords would withstand the whole recording session, but he persevered.

MettleAngel: So was Ralph ever an active member of Scanner? Did he play any shows with the band, or was he too committed to his band Tyran' Pace to ever officially join?

Axel: Ralph was never a member of Scanner, nor did he play any show with us, but he was asked once to join the band after Shelko departed. Unfortunatley, by then he had already signed with Gamma Ray, just prior to our reluctant request.

MettleAngel: He did a great job with Gamma Ray on those first three awesome albums. I understand that those and the Gamma Ray catalogue are being remastered and re-released again this year. I assume you were just friends with Ralph and appreciated his vocal contributions?

Axel: When we recorded 'Hypertrace', Ralph was there with us in the studio. He also lived with us in our studio flat. We strongly considered asking him to become our singer, but our allegiance to Michael kept us from proposing the question when it most mattered.

MettleAngel: How did you decide upon Shelko Coe as Knoblich's replacement? Had he departed Angel Dust before joining Scanner?

Axel: Our producer Frank Bornemann gave me a hint that Shelko was looking for a new band. So I met S.L. Coe in his studio in Dortmund to talk with him, as he had already quit Angel Dust. He arrived late that day and I had a small talk with his sound engineer. First thing Shelko said to me when he came in finally was, "Hi, you have to know, I'm an asshole…" I had a brief talk with him and we decided to introduce him to the band on a rehearsal, after which we decided to work together.

MettleAngel: I had heard that he could be a "dick", so at least he was honest about it! By this time had the whole concept and costume aspect of the band faded?

Axel: Shelko neither liked the band's concept, nor the outfits; so he was strongly opposed to it right out the gate. He flat out refused to adapt to any of these conceptual elements. Also, he refused to sing a lot of my melodies, many of which I had composed already for the next album which were much catchier like those as found on 'Hypertrace'. He improvised for 'Terminal Earth', ignoring what I and the band preferred to use, based on the original demos.

MettleAngel: That is crazy! This explains why the two albums were so diverse. When I played 'Hypertrace' in college, I loved it, the lyrics, the melodies, the music, everything. It took me longer to adjust to 'Terminal Earth', which I still thought might be partially conceptual. Of course at that time, I had not heard any Angel Dust, so I was not familiar with Shelko's singing style at all.

Axel: Shelko was a special character and we just had to handle this, because the alternative meant us not having any vocalist at all.

MettleAngel: Were you not able to track down Andi Deris, who was fronting Pink Cream 69? He was originally Kai Hansen's first choice for Gamma Ray. Had Kai gone with him, you would have had Ralph. It is amazing what could have been. Overall, I still think Shelko did a fine job on 'Terminal Earth'. Honestly, no two Scanner albums are ever alike. Did he bring over any demos from Angel Dust which eventually became new Scanner songs?

Axel: Shelko never introduced any demos to us from Angel Dust nor did he mention he had already prepared some songs with them. When Shelko came up with "From The Dust Of Ages", I was pretty sure there was something strange because his ideas seemed so mellow.

MettleAngel: I thought he was credited with writing that song?

Axel: We worked a lot on this song but at the end we did not want any credits. I mean, we had our pride and we made it a good song but we conceived some suspicion. The hypocritical thing was that Shelko was not willing to follow our ideas, but he wanted to force the band to follow his. In hindsight, this was clearly not the best basis for a successful collaboration.

MettleAngel: Indeed! He seemed like quite a control freak. Maybe that is why he only did one Scaner album, one Angel Dust album, and one Re-Actor release. What was the controversy with 'Terminal Earth' artwork. My US CD longbox version was teal blue with just a picture of the band on it in a goldish-yellow hue, my cassette was the same. It was not until years later that I saw the goofy, "tongue-in-cheek" alien cover art.

Axel: Yes, there was some controversy from the Noise offices in America concerning the suggestive cover artwork. They did not like the self-irony idea where a band gets pissed on by a dog.

MettleAngel: That is just silly! Thankfully, I bought the Doomsday News VHS to see the video of "Buy Or Die". I still adore this song and its lyrics! This allowed me to appreciate 'Terminal Earth' more, over time.

Axel: All I can say is that I did not like the artwork too much either, but it the end it did not bother me that much. If I recall, a female artist painted it, and did her best to incorporate all the songs into one collective scene. This was better than what 'Hypertrace' attempted to accomplish visually.

MettleAngel: I prefer the 'Hypertrace' cover, because you can see the protagonist using the R.M.U. I like the colors and shading. I have always wanted a concert T-shirt with this image.

Axel: Overall, Shelko dominated 'Terminal Earth', but for the rest of us it was a kick in the butt, and I think the album artwork was a dead giveaway for our discontent.

MettleAngel: I guess I can see that. What is "L.A.D.Y" about? That song is so different from every other song on 'Terminal Earth'. Did Shelko write the stupid and epicene lyrics?

Axel: Yes, he did and he spoiled my song. This was not the only one he messed up either. Honestly, I really do not want to keep reflecting upon this.

MettleAngel: Fair enough! I am sure your original songs and lyrics were so much better, but I respect how I have touched on a nerve, and I dutifully apologize. So after Shelko's welcomed departure, you resurfaced on Massacre Records with the singer from The Crows for both 'Ball Of The Damned' and 'Mental Reservation'. Why does Haridon Lee also go under the guise of Leszek "Leo" Szpigiel?

Axel: Well, "Leo" is special and you may say just one name is not enough to describe such a person! Perhaps this is the reason why he is using different names, ha, ha!

MettleAngel: Wow! you sure have had your fair share of "egos" for your vocalists. What was the meaning behind using crazy band member names and titles on 'Mental Reservation'?

Axel: When "Leo" informed me that he wanted to use "Haridon Lee" as his stage name for 'Mental Reservation', the whole idea with the funny names just came up as a gimmick. Since the whole album was a concept album anyhow, it was fine by me.

MettleAngel: Was it because of your dealing with Massacre in the 90's that you have continued to work with them? Why did you opt for a female vocalist on 'Scantropolis'? Many fans were confused by this; although, over all the album was not too bad musically.

Axel: Yes, I thought it would be a wise decision to remain with Massacre. Generally, it is certainly not a mistake to pick a woman as a singer in the band, but in the case of Lisa Croft it was a disaster unfortunately.

MettleAngel: Why is this the case?

Axel: You have to understand that after the loss of "Haridon Lee" from the albums 'Mental Reservation' and 'Ball Of The Damned', and with all the disappointment and frustration coming along, we had planned to continue working with our female backing vocalist Chris Schmidt as our new front woman in 2001.

MettleAngel: I was not aware of this...

Axel: We played Wacken Open Air with her performing a great gig with us. I decided to write a few Scanner songs especially for her voice, in order to present a demo to Massacre. They were impressed by the demo and wanted us to record the album with her as soon as possible. Unfortunatley, Chris was intimidated about the challenge and realized that she would not be able to face this situation as a front woman, so she cancelled everything.

MettleAngel: That is disappointing. You would think that after playing Wacken, she could handle any crowd as a leading lady personality?

Axel: Yeah, that is what I had hoped. So then we found Lisa Croft and wanted to pursue the concept of the album with her singing. Unfortunately, that did not work out well either, because Lisa was just not as talented of a singer as Chris was. Therefore, the album had to be produced according to different vocal nuances to adjust to her singing style. These sacrifices really affected me, as I had to compromise my intentions.

MettleAngel: I was not aware of any of this! I wish I could have heard those demos you recorded with Chris.

Axel: We just could not catch a break. While we were involved in the mixing process for the new album, she decided to drom the bomb by letting us know that she had just started a bloody Top- 40 band; thereby, disabling our booking appointments for the near Scanner future.

MettleAngel: She chose to start a pop band, when she had a chance to sing with Scanner! WTF!

Axel: We finally kicked her out because of all the boundless stupidity. Sorry about my bitterness, which might sound a bit rough, but that was so unprofessional of her to do that to us; something we had never experienced. I have no clue what she does today.

MettleAngel: Screw her, your anger and frustration is totally justified!

Axel: When we started with the idea with Chris there was not much risk to take, because she had a powerful voice, superb stage acumen, and she was a very nice girl. Things just became more complicated after her decision not to be our front woman. I am totally convinced we had absolute acceptance by our fans with her, and 'Scantropolis' originally had a much harder sound, initially.

MettleAngel: Maybe if Massacre ever reissues that CD, you can include the demos with Chris for fans to hear what might have been.

Axel: Judging by how this album could have originally sounded, and how it turned out, clearly it is not one of my favorites. However, like you claimed, the album itself is not all bad, even if it is not a typical Scanner album. Surprisingly, there are also people who love this album more than the rest, even if it is not the hardest or what is expected in the Metal scene.

MettleAngel: Thankfully, now you have a brand new line-up, and maybe you can make peace with all the demons (both literal and figurative) from your past. In my honest opinion, Scanner have just released their best material since 'Terminal Earth'. How did you discover your new vocalist?

Axel: Efthimios is our new singer, but he actually joined the band in 2003 after an audition. He had a strong and powerful voice and his intonation was accurate. Also, character wise, his personality was fitting totally to the band. So he was our first choice.

MettleAngel: So he has been in the band over a decade! What is his background?

Axel: He is influenced by opera singing style mainly, and we worked diligently on his rock performance over the years. He is an excellent singer who is able to represent the whole range of Scanner's vocal challenges. You may say compared to all our former singers he is the most reliable and versatile singer, and a real friend. To me personally, this is very important.

MettleAngel: I am so pleased that you have finally found a reliable and sincere front man. How did the rest of this line-up eventually come together?

Axel: Around 2007 Efthi brought in his old friend, Andreas Zeidler to be our second guitarist. They knew each other from Efthi's former band called Levamnon. Meanwhile Patrick Klose our drummer had helped us out for a few gigs in the past from time to time when our former drummer Franz could not play the required already booked shows. Patrick was in the band Elmsfire at that time.

MettleAngel: I think I have heard that album from 2010 called 'Thieves Of The Sun', also on Massacre Records. When did Patrick officially join the band?

Axel: Franz Eichberger left the band surprisingly in 2013, so we asked Patrick to join the fold. Thankfully, Patrick was already willing to leave Elmsfire, and sign up with us. Jonathan Sell our bass player came earlier in 2012 at the recommendation of Franz to the band. They knew each other from their music studies at University in Mannheim and from a session they had participated in with a Jazz band.

MettleAngel: When did you and the band decide to return to the sound which fans most appreciate?

Axel: When we decided to record the new album we agreed to stay with our sound of the early years and to come up with an album which matched this energy accordingly.

MettleAngel: Believe me, we are all so grateful for this! Did Efthimios write most of the lyrics?

Axel: No, actually I did. Unfortunately, Efthi is not so much into writing lyrics and since somebody has to fulfill the the task, the burden falls on me for writing most of them.

MettleAngel: Well, I think you wrote some great lyrics! What are some of your favorite new songs to play live? Do you still play older material from the early days? If so, what are some of your favorites from that era?

Axel: Well, we have played the songs "The Judgement", "F.T.B.", "Battle Of Poseidon" and "The Legionary" from the new album live already. Soon we are going to add "Eutopia" and maybe "Nevermore" to our setlist, as well. We have always been playing songs from the early days, and some of my favorites are "Terrion", "Across the Universe" and "Warp 7" definitely.

MettleAngel: That is so reassuring! I love those songs from 'Hypertrace'! I hope you at least also play "Buy Or Die". I would love to hear Efthi sing on those. It is also cool that you are playing so many newer songs. What is the new DVD 'The Judgement' about? Is that just videos or live performances as well?

Axel: The DVD is our official video to the title song "The Judgement". There is no live performance or additional material on it. It is just a limited edition idea as a GIVE AWAY promotion and a "Thank You" to our fans. We just had a campaign on our FaceBook page where ten people had the opportunity to win this collectible DVD.

MettleAngel: I was really hoping it had live performances on it, so I could see how the bands sounds now. I do like the "F.T.B." video very much. Just out of curiosity, have you heard your former bassist John A.B.C. Smith's band called God's Army A.D.? They are also signed to Massacre Records.

Axel: Yes, of course. He played with his band at our release party at the Matrix in Bochum in January, It was a nice meeting and they did support us. I think that they are a great band, also. Maybe we will play some more concerts together with them in the near future.

MettleAngel: That is so cool! What does the "A.J." in your name mean? It seems like Scanner members like to be identified by the capital letters. ie. John A.B.C. Smith, Michael M.A.J.O.R. Knoblich, why is this so?

Axel: The "A.J." is just the capital letters of my name and has no other meaning. Our drummer of my first band used to call me "A.J." sometimes and so this is how it started. Later we found it cool to add those to our names or create new names for the members. You may say it became one of Scanner's pet issues.

MettleAngel: OK, I kind of assumed that was what the "A.J." stood for, but I was not certain. So is that what the drummer Michael Ecker of Lions Breed called you back then? Has there ever been a Lions Breed reunion? Is the Cult Metal Classic re-release band approved even?

Axel: No, we never had a Lions Breed reunion. When the CD re-release of "Damn The Night" came up, it was not approved and I just tolerated it.

MettleAngel: I wish the label would have contacted you like Matt from Divebomb does. They should have petitioned your permission, and given you adequate royalties. I had never heard the band until I got his CD, though. Did any Lions Breed demos evolve into future Scanner songs?

Axel: As far as I can remember we recorded a demo of three new songs under the Lions Breed name shortly before changing it to Scanner, and at least two of the songs evolved into Scanner songs later.

MettleAngel: That is fascinating! Does Scanner ever plan to come over to the States so we can finally see you live?

Axel: Yes, we want definitely want to come to America. We will truly try to make it over this autumn, although it is not for sure yet if than will happen. Our booking agent is working on it. If it does not occur this year, then next year it should happen hopefully.

MettleAngel: I sure hope so! I just trust that you come close enough, so I do not have to drive a long distance just to see the band. Few European bands ever come to Cincinnati. They go to Columbus, Cleveland, Chicago, Indiana, Dayton, etc. By the way, did you know that S.L. Coe lives in my home state of Ohio? If you come to the US maybe you could have him join you for some reunion shows and play some material from 'Terminal Earth'.

Axel: No, truly I did not know this. Well, I do not know if I would like to play an entire reunion show with him, though...

MettleAngel: Maybe you would be up for just a handful of songs then. This is what Coburn Pharr is doing now with Annihilator to celebrate the 25th anniversary of 'Never, Neverland'. Hopefully, he would be up for playing a few local shows for the fans.

Axel: I could imagine playing one or two songs with him from "Terminal Earth" during our normal set, I suppose.

MettleAngel: It would be so damn cool if Shelko could join you and the band on stage for a few classics like: "Buy Or Die", "Wonder" or The Challenge". Perhaps you could try to contact him through FaceBook, and let him know when you plan to come to the US. Alex, I sincerely want to Thank You for your honesty, and taking the time to indulge me. Congratulations on a very good new album!

Axel: I too want to thank you for your interesting questions, Michael. Thank you for all the support.

MettleAngel: I cannot wait to see you live. The new Scanner is defintely one of my favorite, current releases of 2015 so far next to Air Raid, Lords Of The Trident, and U.D.O.!

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