Drummer Hannes Grossmann is one of the most admired players in the world of technical death metal. At 21, he joined Necrophagist, playing on the band’s first (and so far only) album for Relapse, Epitaph, and touring with the group for several years. (I saw them play New York in 2005.) After leaving Necrophagist, he joined Obscura, playing on their Cosmogenesis and Omnivium albums. He also formed Blotted Science with Watchtower/Spastic Ink guitarist Ron Jarzombek and Cannibal Corpse bassist Alex Webster. In 2014, Grossmann left Obscura and has made three albums to date: The Radial Covenant under his own name, The Malkuth Grimoire with his band Alkaloid, and his latest release, The Crypts of Sleep.

Although The Crypts of Sleep is credited to Grossmann alone, it features all the members of Alkaloid: guitarist Danny Tunker, bassist Linus Klausenitzer, and vocalist Morean. Also present are several guest guitarists: Tom Geldschläger, formerly of Obscura; Per Nilsson of Scar Symmetry; Erik Rutan of Hate Eternal (for whom Grossmann drums live); and Christian Münzner, formerly of Necrophagist, Obscura, Defeated Sanity, and other bands.

The album covers a surprisingly broad range—there are ultra-complex technical death metal songs, of course, and squiggly solos from one end to the other, but many of the tracks are much more melodic than might have been expected. Some, like “Silence Speaks,” have the hooks and anthemic, shout-along qualities of Arch Enemy, and “Hail Satan” is old-school death metal, halfway between Grave and early Morbid Angel.

In addition to his musical work, Grossmann has opened his own recording studio, Mordor Sounds, in his native Germany. It’s a facility designed to record modern metal, with a focus on digital technology, re-amplifying guitars (a two-stage process that involves recording a dry or clean track, then re-recording it by sending the clean track back through amps and effects), and drum processing.

Stream tracks from The Crypts of Sleep on Bandcamp:

Grossmann answered some questions about the album, his studio, and more via email.

Phil Freeman

All the members of Alkaloid are on this album, so why is it credited to you, rather than to the band?
Alkaloid is a real band in which we work together on all of the material as a group. Everyone writes music and gives his input on all the songs. However, on my new solo album there was very little room left for input from any of the other guys. So it definitely made more sense to label it under my own name. Also, when I started recording, there was no plan to have everyone from the band involved. I thought that maybe I’d like to work with some other people this time. But since my guys in Alkaloid and I have a perfect working chemistry, I saw no reason to not work with them. I was aware that some people may wonder why everyone in Alkaloid is involved while at the same time not putting our group name on it. But it makes perfect sense. All the guys are badass players and we’re great friends too. I even think some of my guys would have been disappointed if I had worked with someone else. But just wait for the next Alkaloid album, it will all make even more sense then.
What is your writing process? Do you start with a rhythm, then find a riff for it, or work some other way?
I rarely come up with rhythms first; my writing is mainly based on the melodic aspect of music. Mostly I have a vague idea in mind before sitting down and starting to write. That idea doesn’t start on a specific instrument, it just forms in my head. It could be a melody or an idea for a chord change or just a basic mood. Then I usually pick up the guitar and try to find notes that fit for what I picture in my head. Sometimes I don’t even need an instrument at all, I just write it out on a note sheet. It’s pretty much like writing an essay for a certain topic. Mostly I shape a general theme out of which all the other riffs flow. Then the arrangement falls into place logically.
Did any of the other musicians contribute to the writing, or was it all you?
No, I wrote everything. Also lyrics, vocal patterns and a lot of the bass lines.
The album goes through a lot of styles—“Hail Satan” sounds like Grave, but “Silence Speaks” and “Oceanborn” have a melodic sound like Arch Enemy. Are you consciously trying to show multiple sides of yourself on this album?
Not consciously. Musically I just have different sides that are based on the same “musical DNA.” Depending on my mood, I can access these different worlds and make use of them. Actually, my writing abilities are much broader than what I showed here. I can also write stuff like fusion music, pop songs, 1960s stuff, and modern classical. For example, on my last album, I included a four-handed piano piece. So I probably just get bored very easily. However, I really try to avoid any comparisons. If you hear bands like Grave or Arch Enemy in my own music, that is probably a compliment, but I don’t listen to any of those bands at all. And I rarely base any of my songs on songs or styles created by others. Sometimes it just happens, like with “Hail Satan,” which is pretty much based on Morbid Angel. But that’s usually the exception.

I also wanna distinguish the sound of Alkaloid from my solo work. My solo project is definitely a follow-up to the sound I was producing in Obscura. Since that band has different members now, which results in a new, quite different-sounding album, I wanted to keep up with the style I formed on Omnivium.

You own your own studio, Mordor Sounds—what are some of the more interesting projects you’ve worked on?
At the moment I’m working on an album for the band Lelahell from Algeria, on which I also play drums. The material is very brutal and fast, but the songs are clearly rooted in oriental music, which makes it very interesting. Redouane, the main songwriter and guitar player, is also a sound engineer, which makes it really really awesome to mix the album. He just knows what he wants and can communicate really specifically. I didn’t know that Algeria had a metal scene, and I had no idea what to expect from the project. But it turned out quite awesome. Another interesting project was to record drums for Jeff Hughell‘s solo album. It is a metal record with barely any guitar on it. It’s all bass. That was pretty rad!
The website implies that your studio is set up to produce modern metal records, with DI guitars and drum re-sampling. Do you think the era of metal records made in a room with real amplifiers and room sound is over? If so, how do you feel about that?
No, I think the old school way of recording will have a revival pretty soon. People will eventually get tired of all that “modern” computer-shaped sound. The reality of things right now is that many bands just don’t have the budget to book a studio for for weeks straight. So they have to save money and record guitars and bass at home, which then need to be re-amped. On my website, I just make clear that I offer all those services that many bands ask for. At the end of the day, it’s the customer that decides what to do.
I prefer to mic up real cabinets, set up amps and create a sound. Or capture the band’s sound as whole. When recording drums, I always record a stereo room mic setup which I highlight in the mix. I hate those plastic-like drum sounds. My recording room sounds great. It’s a little bassy at times, but very powerful and definitely unique.
How much of your own drumming on this album is “real,” and how much of it is triggered, re-sampled, or locked to a ProTools grid?
Nothing is locked to a ProTools grid. I absolutely hate that. You need to respond to the song by push-and-pull and thus affecting the microtiming in a musical way. Imagine you just quantize a ballad! How could you ever get any feel coming across? That’s also what I find boring about many metal bands. It’s the “curse of the grid.” Some bands get intimidated by that and play it safe by just quantizing drums to a grid. But what mostly makes music interesting is the individual touch of the human player.
For triggers, I only use them to support the natural signal. For example, if I recorded a really high, cutting edge snare drum that lacked a bit of body, I’d just quietly add a sampled sound that is lower in tune and has a huge body. Or when I record a very low, big-sounding kick drum, I use a clicky sample to help it cut through the mix better. Mostly you need triggers to battle against the high-gain guitars. So I’d say most of the sound is real, with some help on kicks and snare. My toms are always 100% natural.
Have you ever written or recorded a rhythm you couldn’t play live?
Many times. But then it’s just a matter of changing maybe one or two notes and suddenly it becomes easy, without compromising the original idea.
You’re not currently in any other bands, besides playing live with Hate Eternal—is this going to be your primary recording project for the foreseeable future?
Oh, you forget Blotted Science, for which I still play drums. The band is just kinda inactive these days. But we talked about finishing another album; I already recorded three songs last year. But we have to take our time. My next big project will be producing the new Alkaloid album. Actually I consider Alkaloid my main band. But my solo stuff is very important too, just to preserve my tech-death side of writing. So I do many different things these days and am always open for new things.

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