Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Fury In The Slaughterhouse + Me - Part 1

I've been back almost a week now as I start writing this, and I think I'm starting to be able to get my head around it. So let me tell you the story of my time with the best band in the world and the best fans in the world. It's hard to pry apart where exactly to begin the tale, considering all the moving pieces and bits.

Near the very end of my trip, Gero, the band's multi-instrumentalist, took my hands and offered me this piece of advice, “write the whole truth.” It felt like a moment out of the movie “Almost Famous,” which was apropos of the entire trip. So I'm going to endeavor to tell the whole tale, warts and all, and let you decide for yourself if you agree with my assessment.

On February 13th, 1994, the MTV show “120 Minutes” aired a video for a song called “Every Generation Got Its Own Disease” from a band I'd never heard of. The band was Fury In The Slaughterhouse. I immediately fell in love with the song. The show aired at 11 p.m. on Sunday night, and ran, as the title implied, two hours long. I had to set up a VCR timer recording so I could watch the show when I got home from school Monday evening. The video would air two more times on 120 Minutes. The song would go on to chart, breaking the top 20 of the Modern Rock charts, and just grazing the top 20 of the main Rock charts, charting at 21.

The more recent Homer's store front.

A few days later I went down to Homer's, my local record shop, and they didn't have a copy of the band's US debut, “Mono,” in stock, but they put it on order for me and I picked it up a few days later. It had come out the previous year in the band's home country of Germany, and the US version had a different track listing. The album was just as good as that killer song I heard, and I listened to it over and over again for much of the spring.

The band would come through my home town of Omaha, opening for Meatloaf, in July, but of course, it being '94 and the Internet still being in its infancy, I didn't know about that until after the band had come and gone. It would've been my one chance to see my favorite band in my hometown, but I missed it. I had to hear from friends later how they'd heard this opening band before they saw Meatloaf, and did I know anything about them? It's the kind of thing that makes you want to hurt friends, honestly.

In 1995, “The Hearing and the Sense of Balance,” the band's second US album (their fifth, if you don't the live album “Pure Live”) came out, but the first single, “Dancing In The Sunshine Of The Dark,” didn't make an impact stateside. The band had found touring the US extremely grueling – the distance between the cities, the amount of time spent in transit, battling the language barrier – and they didn't come back to tour the country again. The album wasn't as immediately accessible as “Mono,” but it was still a great record nonetheless.

If I hadn't been so taken by the music, that would've probably been the end of the story. The world is full of amazing bands that put out one or two great albums, then disappear into the night. But at this point in my life, I've got a little bit of journalistic training, and I've spent the last few years learning about this new thing called 'the Internet.'

Now, keep in mind, I was a good investigator, but I was still an 18 year old kid who didn't speak any German, and Google Translate was still a long ways away. Hell, Google the company wouldn't even be founded for another 3 years. But I searched the web for a while and found there were a number of fansites created for the band, mostly in German. Still, I decided to try my luck and started sending emails to the people running the sites, seeing if anyone could help me. After all, there were 3 albums the band had put out that I didn't have, and I was eager to track them down.

Only one person responded, a guy named Nils, who was about my age. Nils agreed to help me, sending me Fury stuff from Germany if I would send him music from America. He loved a singer called Heather Nova, which was where we started. He sent me the older albums, and I sent music in return. Nils also became my link to understanding a bit of the history about the band.

He sent me t-shirts and the side project, Little Red Riding Hood, that some of the band members had put out, and I sent him plenty of things in return. That relationship continued well into my college years, as the band continued to put out new albums in Germany, and Nils continued to ship them to me. I still have the “Hang the DJ” shirt he sent me in 1996 or 1997, although it's pretty worn on the back at this point. Eventually, Nils lost contact, and I started getting things from Amazon, using their German site.

For years, I'd wonder if the band was going to give it another go stateside, or if the missed Meatloaf concert had been my one opportunity to see the band I loved most play live. But in 2008, the band announced they were going to be packing it in at the end of the year. They had been putting out an album every couple of years, and while they still had a strong following, they weren't as widely loved as they were at their peak.

Each of the albums have good songs on them, but some of the latter albums were certainly weaker than the earlier ones. I've been asked a number of times, so I might as well commit it to paper. My favorite Fury In The Slaughterhouse album is 1997's “Brilliant Thieves” and my least favorite is 2002's “The Color Fury.” I can say good things all day long, but let's talk about why “The Color Fury” is my least favorite album for a minute.

There are great songs on “The Color Fury,” like all Fury albums - “Things Like This,” “Angels & Saints,” “Boomtown Babylon,” and “Shape Of Things To Come” are all fine songs – but the misses feel more significant, because they aren't bad songs. They're just underdeveloped. I've heard that during the recording of almost all of “The Color Fury” each of the band members was in different places, and they didn't sit down and just play all the songs in a room together and polish them up. I'm not sure if that's true, but it certainly feels that way.

The songs on “The Color Fury” that don't work might have gotten there if the band had spent more time working as a group to get them into better shape. They feel like unfinished sketches, demos that haven't quite come to completion yet. I'd like to think that if the band had been working together on them, they would've blossomed, but instead, the album comes across as unfinished demos, in need of another couple of coats of paint.

I know Kai, the band's lead singer, said in an interview recently that he felt they could've skipped their last album, “Every Heart Is A Revolutionary Cell,” but I would disagree with him on that front. There's several very solid songs on the album - “As Long As You Believe In Me,” “Here We Go,” “Wasted,” “P.O.W.” for example – and I think the album before it, “Nimby,” ranks among the band's best.

But I was talking about 2008.

Avri outside a train station in Germany, 2008.
In 2008, when the band announced their farewell tour, I was in a decent place in my life. I'd been working for the same company for over a year, making a good wage, and life felt pretty stable. I was talking with my friend Avri, lamenting how I was never going to get a chance to see the band live. I remember the moment well, as he was giving me a lift home in his car, and there was a moment, a long moment, before he said to me “Well, we could just go to Germany.” And it was another, far longer moment before I replied, “We could just go to Germany.”

As it turned out, Avri had friends living in Berlin, so the plan was set into motion. We were going to go and spend a week in Germany, and in the middle of it, we would drive down to Hanover and see the band in their hometown at a show on their farewell tour. Avri would fly back after the week, and I was going to extend my vacation by another week, going to London afterwards. I'd always wanted to see London.

We started to put things together for the trip, and an idea occurred to me. I'm not usually one to request a song, but I figured, fuck it, I was traveling half way across the world for this show. It wouldn't hurt to ask. So I wrote up an email to the band, telling them how far I was traveling, how long I'd loved their music, and if it was okay for me to request a song. It was a shot in the dark, but the band had email addresses for each of the band members on their website, so why not, right? I asked them to play “Haunted Head & Heart,” my favorite Fury In the Slaughterhouse song, off the German version of “Mono.” The song was never released stateside.

A few days later, I got an email from Christof, the band's lead guitarist, telling me that I didn't need to worry about buying tickets to the show – I was on the guest list, and I could come back and meet them after the show for drinks. It was a short little email, but I was over the moon about it.

A bit after that, I got another email, this time from Thorsten, who also plays guitar and is Kai's younger brother. I didn't know it at the time, but he also wrote “Haunted Head & Heart” and sings it as well. He wrote a much longer email, detailing how excited he was that their music had stuck so deeply in someone across the world, and asked if I wanted to come to the very last show in Hanover.

Fury, 2008.
As it turned out, the final show was within the window of time I'd set aside for London. So I bought a second set of plane tickets, and the plan for trip changed. Instead of a week in Germany and a week in London, it turned into a week in Germany, five days in London, then a flight back to Germany, the final Fury In The Slaughterhouse show, the afterparty, a flight back to London, then flying back to the states.

Between booking the tickets and heading to Germany, the company I was working for went through a massive round of layoffs, terminating a third of their employees on one day, myself included. Of course, I had already booked the tickets, so adventure ho, even if there was no work to come back to.

The first of the two shows, we were late for, and I do mean late. We missed both opening acts and the first few songs of Fury's set. I was a bit pissed by that, but we caught the back half of “Radio Orchid” and as the set continued, I grew more and more ecstatic, even as the rain started to pour down. And midway through the show, the band asked if I was in the audience, and I shouted out as loud as I could. Thorsten then told the crowd (in German) that I'd flown thousands of kilometers to see the band that night, and that made me the biggest Fury fan outside of Germany.

Kai, me and Thorsten, 2008.
All the rain had made my backstage pass sticker slip off so I had to flash my passport to get them to let me into the backstage area, but Avri and I did get in and I spent a little bit of time talking with Thorsten. I wish I had spent more time talking with them, but Avri and I were sort of at the mercy of a our hosts, and we had to drive back to Berlin, which was a couple hour drive. On top of that, I was a little bit starstruck.

Less than a week later, I flew back from London to Hanover, where I had a different host. See, I'd sent another email when I'd decided to do the final show – to Nils. Sure enough, Nils was still a fan, so he met up with me at Hanover airport, took me to lunch, and then we went to the final Fury In The Slaughterhouse show. I got my copy of the “Brilliant Thieves” CD book signed by the entire band at the show, but everyone was having such a great party, I didn't want to bother anyone. At around 2 a.m., we left the afterparty and made our way to Hanover airport, where I caught a 6 a.m. flight to London, and then flew out of London a little after noon to head back to the states.

Nils, Thorsten, me, 2008.
I have recordings of those shows, so I can listen to them any time, as well as a t-shirt from the tour that I've worn pretty much once a month since then, although I forgot to pick up a poster from the show, to my own annoyance. We'll double back to that later.

In another lifetime, that might be the end of the story. And it's a pretty good one, right? Music fan flies to the other side of the world to see favorite band play live, gets to meet them after the show, and has the story to tell for the rest of his days. But our story doesn't end there...


I'll be continuing this whole thing in sections, so expect the next part in a few days.

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