Running Wild – Teutonic to the Maximum
Upon returning to Germany and leaving the influence of American jazz music behind, Bauerfeind started producing metal bands such as Sieges Even (Steps, 1990; A Sense of Change, 1991) and Heavens Gate (More Hysteria, 1991). Running Wild’s acclaimed Black Hand Inn (1994) was his first major production with one of the oldest German heavy metal bands (since 1976). Never having tried to hide their heritage earned Running Wild mockery from all over the world (see Herbst, 2020a). In Germany, Running Wild are celebrated for their uncompromisingly ‘German style’ (Herbst, 2020b), and Black Hand Inn (1994) is considered one of the gems in the band’s discography. The precise guitar playing and tight synchronisation with the drums were highly esteemed by German Rock Hard (Bittner, 2009: 74).
This impression did not come about by chance, according to Bauerfeind. The band with German drummer Jörg Michael recorded the drum tracks as precisely to a downbeat click as possible,Footnote 1 which has become standard practice in music production in the twenty-first century but was less common in the US and UK in the 1990s (see Herbst, 2020a). Unusual is that the band obsessively insisted that Bauerfeind keep checking alignment, the synchronisation of all drum instruments and snare timing to the kick drum. Worth noting is that due to an endorsement with manufacturer Digidesign beginning in 1993, Bauerfeind was one of the first producers in Europe to work with a Pro Tools digital audio workstation. Compared to the older analogue technology, this digital production system allowed for much more substantial rhythmic corrections. Initially, the system provided simultaneous playback of just four out of eight tracks, later 16 to 20 editable tracks. Still, it was sufficient to audition the main drum instruments of kick, snare and overheads, so Bauerfeind improved playing precision further through audio editing. This combination of skilled drummer, careful selection of recorded performances and effective editing resulted in immaculate timing and synchronisation that matched the concept of Prussian precision, even if it was not yet apparent to Bauerfeind.
The rhythm guitars were quadrupled, which was still uncommon for the time (Herbst, 2017). In contrast to recording two tracks, this technique risks losing definition (Mynett, 2017: 135). Guitarist Rolf Kasparek laid down one track precisely and then recorded the other three while listening only to the first track. Afterwards, Kasparek checked if all recorded tracks were aligned with the first guitar. Playing mainly downstrokes instead of alternating strokes ensured definition. For maximum precision, just one of the two guitarists recorded the rhythm tracks. Kasparek created a unique guitar sound that distinguished him from other German musicians of the time. He used an American Mesa Boogie Mark IV amplifier that did not create a characteristic Teutonic metal sound, but with his distinctive playing style and the amplifier running on a power line frequency of 50 Hz, he lent the setup more of a European sounding character. Bauerfeind is convinced that the same setup recorded in the US would have sounded noticeably different on a 60 Hz power line because it produces a distortion tone with higher fluctuation frequency. Some American producers use an electrical transformer called ‘Variac’, as do European producers when recording in the USA, to produce European-sounding distortion.
Since Bauerfeind never owned a studio, he usually chose one from the several recording studios that supported the Prussian ‘war sound’ concept by their acoustics (see Herbst, 2019). Black Hand Inn (1994) was recorded at Vox Klangstudio in Bendestorf, an old movie theatre with a controlled reverberated sound. The kick drum was intended to sound like a cannon, a low fundamental frequency with a long decay, and the snare drum like a shotgun, also deep in sound. Such sounds can only be created if the room acoustics produce pressure points that shape the drums’ sound when the kit and microphones are placed correctly. Pondering the individual performances and sounds, Bauerfeind reasons few other albums feature Teutonic attributes as consistently as Black Hand Inn (1994).
Gamma Ray – Teutonic with a Rock’n’Roll Twist
One year later, Bauerfeind produced the album pivotal for Gamma Ray’s career, Land of the Free (1995). German Metal Hammer described it as a contender to take over Helloween’s Keeper of the Seven Keys – Part I (1987) prime position in German metal history (Mineur, 1995: 117). Land of the Free did not conform to a Teutonic metal production concept because it has more of a rock’n’roll feel like Helloween’s music. The drums were played more relaxed and less military-precise (see Reed, 2007), which allowed guitarist Kai Hansen to play slightly ahead without making the song sound too fast, a technique Rammstein use as well (Herbst, 2021). The signal the ear detects first is the most important one. While Running Wild’s drums were right on the click and the guitars precisely aligned to it, or slightly behind, Gamma Ray’s drum transients were after the guitars. Gamma Ray’s approach to rhythmic alignment once stirred a discussion between band leader Hansen and producer Bauerfeind. Hansen did not play the rhythm guitar according to Bauerfeind’s intended feel, and the overall result sounded hectic to Bauerfeind due to Hansen’s preferred ‘pushy feeling’. Playing the guitars in a more relaxed feel on the beat would have solved the problem, but Hansen rejected Bauerfeind’s advice. The only option left was deliberately contrasting the two feels by playing the drums even more relaxed and laid-back, which, according to Bauerfeind, works better than combining slightly different feels. Altogether, this guitar playing style, ahead of the drums combined with heavily overdriven Engl Straight blended with traditional Marshall amplifiers, gave the album production a raw rock’n’roll sound, which is less powerful and ‘Teutonic’ than Running Wild’s heavy metal approach.
Apart from the discussed performance characteristics, the drum sounds concurred with Bauerfeind’s notion of Teutonic metal. For Gamma Ray’s recordings, he chose RA.SH. Studios in Gelsenkirchen, which had smaller and less ambient live rooms than Vox Klangstudio. The stairways, though, provided a reflection chamber with pure ferroconcrete walls that produced a thundering drum sound characteristic of Teutonic metal bands, such as Gamma Ray, Rage, Axel Rudi Pell and Sodom (see Herbst, 2019).
Angra – South American Style with a Teutonic Approach
Owing to his work with Viper (Evolution, 1992; Vipera Sapiens, 1993), Brazilian Angra approached Bauerfeind, asking him to help them achieve a more Teutonic sound like the German bands that inspired them. Angels Cry (1993) was their first production, and Bauerfeind admitted that establishing a Teutonic feel with Angra was another challenge than with Gamma Ray. Due to their cultural background in samba music and carnival, similar to those noted for Sepultura (Avelar, 2003; Janotti, 2020; Kahn-Harris, 2000), Angra’s ears were tuned differently from his own. Unlike marching music from his upbringing, carnival music is not rigidly aligned to a fixed tempo but looser and more improvised in its rhythmic realisation. At first, the musicians did not understand Bauerfeind’s intentions. Over time, they became aware of the cultural differences, yet it did not feel natural to them to perform with a ‘Teutonic feel’. Time-consuming guidance eventually brought the desired playing precision. During the production, drummer Marco Antunes broke his hand, so Alex Holzwarth, studio drummer of German progressive metal band Sieges Even, was hired. According to Bauerfeind, Holzwarth plays very precisely, almost ‘sterile’ with highly developed technical abilities. Engaging Holzwarth helped significantly to bring Teutonic qualities into the production. The mixture of different feels, as per Bauerfeind, gave the music distinctiveness. Even though the Brazilian musicians learned to perform with a ‘Teutonic feeling’, Bauerfeind believes that they still played differently than musicians who have this feeling naturally because it is rooted in their upbringing. The sound may be similar but not identical, so the result is likely to be unique. Holzwarth’s ultra-precise drum performance combined with a Brazilian interpretation of Teutonic features made the band stand out, making the record popular, especially in Japan.
The album was recorded at Hansen Studios in Hamburg, where the prospect of achieving the intended drum aesthetic was best. Located in an old World War II bunker, it had acoustics contributing to the production’s ‘military atmosphere’. The mix was done at Horus Sound Studio in Hanover. However, from Bauerfeind’s experience, the studio used for mixing has comparatively less impact on the resulting aesthetic than that used for the recording. The first versions sent to the Japanese record label JVC prompted reactions to the ‘Teutonic’ production aesthetic, or rather the lack thereof. The head artist and repertoire manager disliked the kick drum sound, expressing indignation via fax to Bauerfeind: ‘Japanese kids love the sound of bass drums. Therefore, we would appreciate that this Angra production has a bass drum sounding more like the Teutonic bass drum on the last Gamma Ray album (Insanity & Genius, 1993)’, a record Bauerfeind had also mixed and produced. At that time, Teutonic productions were internationally renowned for loud kick drum sounds; a sound JVC was keen to adopt.
On their second album Holy Land (1996), Angra explored their South American musical heritage while keeping Teutonic elements under Bauerfeind’s guidance. Brazilian rhythms, played by their new drummer Ricardo Confessori and percussionist Tuto Ferraz, were blended with foreign musical elements like Japanese Taiko loop rhythms. Classical elements were also incorporated, which was a challenging task, according to Bauerfeind, as it meant blending various musical styles with diverging concepts and traditions. However, combining Teutonic precision with different cultural influences proved successful, as evidenced by the record’s popularity, especially in Japan. The album was recorded and produced at several German studios: Hansen Studios in Hamburg, Big House Studios in Hanover, HG Studio in Wolfsburg and Vox Klangstudio in Bendestorf. Only the Brazilian percussion parts were recorded in Brazil at Djembe Studio São Paulo.
Saxon – NWOBHM gets a Teutonic Make-over
In 1999, Bauerfeind produced his first album with NWOBHM icon Saxon. Titled Metalhead (1999), Bauerfeind was engaged to ‘metallise’ Saxon’s traditional rock’n’roll sound. The band’s typical rock feel shows in the solo parts and melodic guitar overdubs, consisting of phrasing with expressive string bending and vibrato. Bauerfeind only became aware of these subtle differences later when working with HammerFall from Sweden, who lack this kind of expressive phrasing.
Saxon’s guitar sound, characteristic of a British band, was based on Marshall amplifiers. Bauerfeind layered their guitar sounds with German Engl Savage tones to achieve a more pronounced metal aesthetic and add his Teutonic signature. In the 1990s, Engl manufactured guitar amplifiers capable of producing more distortion than most other companies, and with their distinct sound, they differed noticeably from amplifiers from the UK and USA.
The track ‘Conquistador’ is particularly worth discussing because of its South American lyrical theme. As Bauerfeind suggests, these songs are often based on triplet subdivisions for a lighter feel, but he acknowledges that this may only be how many European bands stereotypically imagine this sound aesthetic. Such rhythms would challenge many European drummers because ternary divisions with a backbeat emphasis resemble American jazz and swing music much more than the binary Central European feel. For this record, German drummer Fritz Randow replaced Saxon’s Nigel Glockler. Randow’s unique Teutonic metal-based drum style, which he developed through many record productions, contributed much to the Teutonic signature of the Metalhead album. Five years later, Bauerfeind produced Saxon’s Lionheart (2004) album, but this time, Randow was replaced by German drummer Jörg Michael who lent the record a still more Teutonic feel, representing the precise Prussian-inspired metal aesthetic. As per Bauerfeind, Michael is the most-recorded Teutonic metal drummer, having worked with many influential bands: Rage, Axel Rudi Pell, Grave Digger, Running Wild, Stratovarius. For Bauerfeind-produced Inner Sanctum (2007), Nigel Glockler re-joined the band, marking the return to their original looser rock’n’roll style. In Bauerfeind’s opinion, Glockler’s feel and playing style create the most homogenous sound that best fits the British band’s rock’n’roll style.
Regarding Metalhead (1999), the album was recorded at one of the main German metal studios of the 1980s and 1990s, Karo Musikstudio in Brackel (Blind Guardian, Grave Digger, Gamma Ray, Iron Savior, Freedom Call, Destruction). Traditional NWOBHM played with Teutonic-infused drum performances and guitar tones lent the production a unique aesthetic. Saxon’s website described the collaboration similarly: ‘Charlie Bauerfeind was in charge of the driving sound, keeping the typical Saxon elements of each song to incorporate them in a contemporary production’. Intending to return to their roots, Saxon later hired British producer Andy Sneap for their Sacrifice (2013) album. Bandleader Biff Byford explained the decision on their website: ‘From the songs to the production, I wanted to focus on the raw aspects which made us great in the first place’. This aesthetic is the opposite of the precise and all-controlled Teutonic production concept with its inherent precision that Byford considered too sterile for his rock’n’roll-inspired NWOBHM sound.
Venom – British Band Clashes with Teutonic Production Concept
In 1997, Bauerfeind was asked to mix British proto-black metal band Venom’s reunion record Cast in Stone (1997). Like Saxon and Motörhead, they were signed with German label Steamhammer and booking agent Rainer Hänsel, both collaborating with Bauerfeind. The band did not desire a Teutonic signature in their sound, which Bauerfeind accepted. Nevertheless, he quantised one song’s drum performance for a more precise Teutonic feel, believing it would sound better. The label and agent, all Germans, supported this decision, but the band vehemently opposed it. Ultimately, Bauerfeind had to undo all ‘preciseness work’ to meet the artist’s will for whom those changes did not match their innate feeling. They argued that the ‘sloppy drum performances’ were exactly meant as recorded to create the intended feel. This incident made Bauerfeind realise that his perception and views might fundamentally differ from those of a band. Deviating aesthetic views, determined by mythic milieu (Spracklen, 2017) and genre conventions (Reyes, 2013), likely caused the clash. Bauerfeind’s Teutonic concept, which he developed with melodic speed metal and power metal artists, did not fit with a British interpretation of black and thrash metal. It was effective in ‘metallising’ Saxon’s NWOBHM rock’n’roll sound, but it did not work with the proto-black metal band Venom. The result, not nearly a Teutonic production, pleased the band after all. This experience taught Bauerfeind that a producer must be aware of Teutonic features to know when to apply or avoid them.
HammerFall – The Swedish Way of Interpreting Teutonic Metal
HammerFall make no secret of being hugely inspired by German metal pioneers Accept (Schäfer, 1998). For their third studio album, Renegade (2000), they engaged former Accept producer Michael Wagener. Bauerfeind produced their fourth album Crimson Thunder (2002), recorded at several studios used by Teutonic metal bands, such as the Dutch Wisseloord, Blind Guardian’s Twilight Hall in Grefrath, Germany, and Helloween’s Andi Deris’ Mi Sueño in Tenerife, for an even more pronounced Teutonic aesthetic.
Bauerfeind believes that Swedish musicians are Americanised due to their upbringing, partly because American movies were shown untranslated on TV for a long time. His impression matches studies suggesting that Sweden’s music industry has a global profile, giving the music a placeless and ‘culturally anonymous’ sound (Connell & Gibson, 2003: 124–125; Kahn-Harris, 2007: 108). Accordingly, Bauerfeind is convinced that Swedish bands tend not to have a Teutonic sound. An exception are HammerFall, whose guitar player Oscar Dronjak is the greatest Teutonic metal fan Bauerfeind has ever met. His ears are so tuned to the genre’s details that even his guitar solos lack most of the blues and rock feel characteristic of American rock music. Dronjak cherished working with Bauerfeind as he expressed in a Rock Hard interview: ‘The first time I worked with Charlie – I love Charlie! – I wanted to kill him because he is so German: “This sounds like shit – do it again!”’ (Bittner, 2011: 39). HammerFall’s appreciation of precision and ‘Teutonic phrasing’ increased over time, which Bauerfeind noticed during the No Sacrifice, No Victory (2009) production. This record was recorded directly after Saxon’s Into the Labyrinth (2009). Inspired by Saxon’s blues- and rock-influenced NWOBHM style, Bauerfeind was intrigued to give HammerFall’s solo guitar work a rock feel by encouraging phrasing like string bending. As this idea opposed Dronjak’s intended Teutonic aesthetic, he started an argument. He insisted on playing controlled and precise, and therefore most solos on this record like ‘Any Means Necessary’ lack blues articulation, resembling Wolf Hoffmann’s guitar playing on Accept records. For Bauerfeind, HammerFall are the ‘most Teutonic’ metal band outside German-speaking countries besides American Manowar. These two bands are evidence that a sound is not limited to a place or local scene but can be appropriated as a set of stylistic conventions regardless of location (Dunn, 2004).
Halford, Helloween and Rage – Validating the Theory of Rhythmic Feels
In the early 2000s, Bauerfeind made several experiences that helped him validate previous observations and fully develop a concept of culturally characteristic feels. He was working on British Rob Halford’s solo album Resurrection (2000) while also producing German Helloween’s The Dark Ride (2000), which allowed for direct comparison between a Teutonic and American production. American producer Roy Z, who was involved in Helloween’s production, asked Bauerfeind to refine Halford’s mixes recorded in the USA. In so doing, Bauerfeind realised that their overall production concept did not conform to Teutonic precision, especially in the drums. These were performed by Bobby Jarzombek, one of the most accomplished American progressive metal drummers, best known for his work with Watchtower and Fates Warning. The alignment of snare and kick was laid-back, which Bauerfeind believes to be characteristic of American drummers.
A similar experience as with Rob Halford’s Resurrection (2000) production Bauerfeind made with Rage. During the drum recording for the album Unity (2002), he was hired by the record company to give the German band a more defined Teutonic signature. Due to his loose fusion-influenced playing style, Rage’s American drummer Mike Terrana needed considerable guidance to achieve the intended Teutonic feel, which performance-wise was an essential part of the record. On the band’s previous, self-produced album Welcome to the Other Side (2001), Terrana had performed in his loose style. Upon gaining awareness of how to create the required Teutonic feel, Terrana convincingly performed this style on Unity (2002).
Mikkey Dee (Motörhead, Don Dokken, King Diamond, Scorpions) is one of the few drummers Bauerfeind has worked with who precisely knows the different feel between Teutonic and non-Teutonic drum styles. As a Swede with Greek roots and having lived in the US, Dee has absorbed different cultures. When he was called in as a session drummer for Helloween’s Rabbit Don't Come Easy (2003), he instantly asked Bauerfeind what alignment was requested. Dee began playing in the laid-back and unaligned American style and gradually transitioned to the precise Teutonic way of playing. That was an astounding observation for Bauerfeind because never had these differences been so clearly demonstrated to him. Before, his concept of a Teutonic sound was grounded in experiences of working with various artists. Seeing one drummer able to play the different feels finally confirmed his working theory.
Helloween – Exploring Variations of the Teutonic Feel
With all these observations over the years, Bauerfeind decided to take his Teutonic approach further and develop new concepts involving Teutonic trademarks. Inspired by marching associations that Rammstein used on their single ‘Links 2, 3, 4′ (2001), he started blending boot sounds with the drums on Helloween’s ‘The Smile of the Sun’ on 7 Sinners (Helloween, 2010). Not knowing about these audio samples, an ordinary listener is unlikely to hear the marching sounds even though they subconsciously affect the music’s perception. This technique has a long tradition in German metal, already heard in Accept’s ‘Balls to the Wall’ (1983). Devotees of German metal have copied this approach, as American power metal band Kamelot did in ‘March of Mephisto’ (2005).
In his continuing exploration, Bauerfeind took yet another approach by incorporating South American elements into Helloween’s productions. In ‘Nabataea’ (2013), he added several layers of percussion loops from Heavyocity Media’s ‘Damage’ pack. Those are frequently used in movies and TV-series because such rhythms allow controlling tension and release. The effect is a ‘pushier’ and more syncopated feel, almost like a South American groove. However, the loops’ low volumes relative to the drums mainly imply a feel and add ‘psychoacoustic dirt’ to the band’s sound. Furthermore, Bauerfeind experimented with separating the quantised precision concept from the precise alignment concept in Helloween’s productions. The drummer Daniel Löble, not playing to a click track but performing freely, creates what is called a ‘floating beat map’. Even though the tempo varies throughout the performance, he maintains the drum instruments’ internal alignment for a Teutonic feel. A challenging task, yet combining Teutonic precise alignment and loose, expressive performances without a metronome produces remarkable results. Bauerfeind’s experiments convinced him that it is worthwhile to incorporate other elements into a Teutonic metal sound, just as it worked vice versa when Angra appropriated Teutonic elements. On an academic note, Bauerfeind’s statements sometimes touch on essentialism, but his experience that musicians can adopt other playing styles and musical traditions can be mixed is consistent with the arbitrary and constructed nature of imagined symbolic communities (Anderson, 1994; Cohen, 1985; Hobsbawm & Ranger, 1992).