Ad Astra – Ron Merz
Art: Sam Nelson
The concept behind the artwork is that the entire world is on fire, both literally and figuratively. We see this, for example, in the many bushfires that are becoming increasingly violent due to climate change and are destroying much of nature. But we also see this in the resurgence of authoritarian regimes and inhuman ideas. This is in the artwork – designed front and back throughout, in the scorched landscape and the fires still raging in the distance. At the same time, I refuse to believe that there is no way out of the current situation and that there is no longer any hope. This, in turn, is symbolised by the starry sky, into which the smoke of the fires rises and becomes a cosmic nebula. I chose space as a metaphor because it seems endless and full of new possibilities. Last but not least, the album title also reflects this.
I don’t think you can necessarily speak of a specific process because I want to give as much freedom as possible to create covers and artwork. In the case of ‘Ad Astra’, I only approached Samuel (Nelson) with a rough description of the basic textual concept and an idea for the design. It was then entirely up to him to visualise it and be creative. It’s important to me that everyone I work with on my albums can contribute their personality and skills to the project in the best possible way. In terms of design, this applies to both Samuel and Stefan Heilemann, who are incredibly great artists and have done a lot of work for Bloodred.
I think over the years, my approach to writing the lyrics has changed. I used to use poetry more often and picked up topics that were more standard metal lyrics. It is now very important to me to write about things I can feel close to and to which I have an emotional connection. These can then be personal things such as losses in the family or in the circle of friends, but I have decided to raise my voice even more for global grievances. And yes, I also write political texts and stand by my opinion here. I actually try very consciously not to use any typical metal clichés. So despite the band name, you won’t find too much blood in the lyrics, for example. On the contrary, where it is important, I would like to be clear in the statement and not hide meanings too much behind metaphors etc. I really hope that people will also engage with and understand my lyrics.
The only ritual of having is not to have a ritual. In fact, I try to find a different and new approach for every album, sometimes for every new song. These are, for example, considerations of how I want to further develop my music, where I want to try something and further develop my strengths. But there are also always very physical things: Use new picks or even a new guitar, stand when writing songs instead of sitting, work on a new sound or don’t use any amplification for the guitar at all. All those things break up the daily routine and let me break out of my comfort zone a little bit.
I would describe myself mostly as a rational person who tries to have as objective a view of the world as possible. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m not emotional, too (certainly not), but I don’t want to become reliant on things I find wrong and harmful. That’s why I put a lot of emphasis on scientific work and progress, knowing full well that this also has limits we cannot currently cross. But science, in its basic approach to things, is very similar to how I try to approach issues. About religions, this also means for me that I agree with Christopher Hitchens and would describe myself not only as an atheist but even as an anti-theist. I absolutely reject religion in any form and consider it a great evil in the world.
My ‘awakening experience’ in relation to metal is twofold. First, my first concert brought me closer to this world: ‘Monsters of Metal’ 1987 with Deep Purple, Dio and Metallica, among others. Even though I wasn’t really able to assess many things at the age of 12, I still remember the energy of the whole event and the bands in particular (Metallica should be mentioned first). The second experience was when I later found ‘Stay Hungry’ from Twisted Sister in my parents’ record cabinet and ‘Burn In Hell’ totally fascinated me. It wasn’t long before I bought my first CD myself, ‘Master Of Puppets’. From there, it went on and on and got more extreme until I ended up in Death Metal and later Black Metal. Since then, metal has been an essential part of my life and has helped me in many situations. If I had to name an idol, it can watch out for the cliché! – just be James Hetfield. The Hetfield of the Justice era left a lasting impression on me and motivated me to want to learn an instrument. Without him, an important part of my life would not have been possible. I’m glad that I was able to thank him personally for that. I always try to go through the world with open eyes and ears and to get inspiration from all possible sources. Be it other music, art or news, anything can trigger the next riff or lyric idea.
As a rule, I have admiration for people who, based on their own experience, are committed to things that can advance humanity as a whole. The first example that comes to mind is Malala Yousafzai, whose life story to date is impressive to me. Basically, I think, by the way, that it is increasingly the women who excel here. Very recently, for example, in Iran, women started an uprising against their oppression.
I’m not much for spiritual experiences, but the music itself (and we’re not talking about specific genres here) is a huge unifying aspect of our human culture. A universal language, if you will. It’s hard to find anyone in the world who doesn’t react to music in some way. That’s why you can reach everyone directly with music. And why music is always present on all occasions. However, one must honestly say that music and its perception are really endangered these days. Music is becoming more and more a by-product that just kind of goes along with it. People are taking less and less time to understand what artists want to say with their music and to delve into the world of the respective music. Personally, I not only try to listen to a new band every week but also consciously take time for an album (old or new) and let it work on me with headphones. Music is so much more than just noises from the mobile phone that it also has a lousy sound.
What might come as a surprise to many is that I like to listen to jazz/fusion from time to time, and I consciously pull one or the other out of it for my music. If I should name bands here, then it’s Snarky Puppy (a lot of people probably know them) but also Sungazer (they’re maybe still more underground). You really should be open-minded and check them out!