Queen of Siam, Finished With The Dogs CD re-issues
by Todd K Smith
In the mid-to-late ‘80s no one rocked as hard or heavy as Holy Moses. Formed in the fertile European underground, the band soon became the rising star of speed, thrash and death metal. With the release of two classic masterpieces Queen of Siam and Finished with the Dogs the German four-piece seared their brand onto the hard rock market. They toured relentlessly in an attempt to break out of their regional clubs but never seemed to rise above cult status. As a live act they were a force to be reckoned with. Extremely raw with heads down and feet firmly planted they freight-trained through their set giving bands like Slayer and Venom a run for their money. When it came to recording their original material, they were uncompromising often digging deep into their subterranean souls for lyrics and musical composition par excellence. Led by the shrieking growl of Sabina Classen, Holy Moses were the first to introduce a female with “a voice like the devil.”
By the late ‘80s and beginning of the early ‘90s Holy Moses was exporting their records worldwide. Landmark discs were The New Machine Of Liechtenstein (’89) and World Chaos (’91). That’s where we found the band and became rabid fans. However, it was difficult to track down their records as dealers lacked the organization the Internet later offered. The band themselves kept to Europe and summer festivals but by 1992 they had hit a crossroads and disbanded. Four years later, Sabina returned to recording with a new band, Temple Of The Absurd. The rise of digital broadcasting allowed her to transmit her own videos and become the host of Bullet TV. 2000 proved to be a challenge when Sabina was severely injured in a motorcycle accident - yet by year’s end, she and Andy were working together again as Holy Moses and returned to a fulltime tour schedule.
The band’s comeback record Disorder of the Order was released in 2002 to high praise from fans and critics alike. Strength, Passion, Will, Power cemented their return with widespread praise and now we see the release of the band’s entire back catalog on CD. It’s been a long time coming but well worth the wait. Over the years Holy Moses and Sabina have become legendary icons to the current trends of heavy music. They continue to push the boundaries of the genre, feeding the fire and evolving as they go. We were extremely fortunate to make contact with Sabina and ask her a few questions regarding the past 20 years. Here are the answers from the Queen of Chaos….
TCE: Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions regarding Holy Moses. We are big fans for many years. I remember buying both Queen of Siam and Finished with the Dogs at Tower Records in Seattle, WA. - back when Tower carried import vinyl. I only saw you play once at the Markthalle in Hamburg in the late eighties. However, I still reflect back on it with fondness.
Sabina: Oh, that is a great feeling to me and I thank you very much for being into the band for such a long time.
TCE: I’m glad to hear all your records are being reissued and getting a chance to showcase their brilliance on CD. I remember, at the time, many of my friends were slow to get into thrash especially with a female singer. Your voice was completely unique and different than the women promoted in the states (Pat Benatar, Lita Ford, Lee Aaron) - was it difficult for you as a female to sell your type of music to the masses?
Sabina: In Europe it was a bit easier, ‘cause with our typical German thrash/death sound, the fans really loved our music, especially with the release of the Finished with the Dogs album. And the music scene was going harder and harder, and that was a great evolution for us. But it was never a discussion for me not to do my own music. I did this kind of voice from the first moment and I never thought to change my voice to get more sales for the masses.
TCE: I’ve seen Arch Enemy a number of times and am reminded of you especially listening to Angela Gossow break new ground in metal with her voice. Have you met her or seen the band? If so what was the conversation like?
Sabina: Yes, I know Angela for a long, long time. She is coming near from my hometown and still when she was with her first bands, she phoned me and she visited Holy Moses shows and she told me, that I am her idol. A few years ago, when she started up to sing for Arch Enemy, she phoned me and we had real “girl” talk on the phone, - how to prepare for a long tour in a nightliner only with guys, hahahahahaha! So I could give her some ideas and preparing for it. Also last year, we played festivals together on the same stage, like With Full Force Festival in Germany. It’s always nice to meet her and have some drinks and talks together. I think she is doing a great job and also it’s good for our kind of music, that she is now successful with her band. She talks about me in interviews as well as Holy Moses and she always mentions that I was the first girl to sing like that; so it’s a great feeling, that she still remembers her background and start.
TCE: In the ‘80s Holy Moses was considered a thrash/speed metal band. Would you still agree with that label today?
Sabina: I was always wondering in the beginning about the labels they gave to our music. When we started, the word metal was not around, they called it “Hard rock” a time later, they called our music, death, speed and thrash metal. So I have no problem with all these labels….but with the words and the music, what is around right now, I will say we are a thrash/death band…with the typical Holy Moses sound. It’s a great feeling for me, that we had the chance to start so young and without influences. We only did what we wanted to do. We never thought about what kind of style we should play, we only played our feelings which we are still doing.
TCE: Warlock and San Diego’s thrash band Detante (featuring Dawn Crosby) were coming to the forefront along with Holy Moses. Did you ever tour together? Were you competitors or comrades in arms?
Sabina: Doro (ex-Warlock) and I are really good friends since the 80s. We never toured together but we played several festivals together and we get together a lot nowadays. With Dawn Crosby of Detante and later in Fear of God, we talked on the phone many times in the beginning of the 90s. We planned to do a tour together in Europe. The tour was planned for spring, but Dawn died the December before. It was a hard moment for me, ‘because I think that tour had a chance to come into the history of metal…RIP Dawn!!!!
TCE: Do you feel Holy Moses is more in step with the times now than the mid ‘ 80s?
Sabina: This is always a hard question, ‘cause you can’t compare it, especially not for me - I am in the middle of it, hahahahaha… Holy Moses did an evolution year by year and I am not looking back in that way. I am always looking forward and I feel great with the moments we have right now with the band. It’s a great life and I’ve been able to do it all these years with the band.
TCE: I like the story about the band’s first rehearsals in the basement of a church and the prank the fans played by turning all the crosses upside down. Because of your more sinister approach to metal have you had trouble with over zealous religious fanatics?
Sabina: No, never, this was the only story…hahahahahaha…I think, if you look deeper into the lyrics we are talking about, really deep…..the only thing, I can tell you, is about a show only a few month ago after all these years…there was a demonstration in front of a festival we played in Holland, but this demonstration was against the whole metal scene and all the pentagrams etc. and they especially featured us…hahahahahahaha, but I could see, that they didn’t looked deeper into my lyrics and why our symbol is a pentagram…
TCE: Where did the name Holy Moses come from?
Sabina: I don’t know, hahahahaha to be honest, the band already had this name, when I joined it in 1981. For me it was Holy Moses, and I never thought about it, to change the name…. I know from Ramon, who founded the band, that somebody had said “Holy Moses, what a sound!” and I liked the idea to give the band this name…
TCE: It’s an interesting story how Ramon left the band to live with his girlfriend leaving the band’s name and rights to you. For someone who didn’t even want to be in the band, I find that an interesting twist in fortune. Is the reason the band has sustained itself these twenty years because of your leadership? Why do you continue the fight?
Sabina: Strength, power, will and passion is the reason why I continue the fight. It’s my passion to do this music and Ramon knew it. He was somebody who could read the souls of people and he knew that I would always fight for this band.
TCE: I wanted to briefly touch on a few of your past highlights. Going back to “Queen of Siam” could you please explain where the title came from? How was it working with Ralph Hubert? Were you a fan of his band Mekong Delta?
Sabina: The title of the first album was Ramon’s idea. His girlfriend was the “Queen of Siam,” she was from Thailand. The work with Ralph was really hard for us, ‘cause it was the first time we did a real recording in a studio. So everything was really new for us, and Ralph was a real hard producer. But we learned a lot from him. Andy liked Mekong Delta, I was not such a huge fan of it, I was more into Venom and Possessed.
TCE: There is a song off the record called “Don’t Mess around with the Bitch” was that a personal reference?
TCE: Several of the songs off that first album still make your live set including “Walpurgisnight”, “Dear Little Friends” and “Bursting Rest” what was it about that first recording session that made these song special?
Sabina: These songs are great memories about our start…and the fans always like to listen to the songs right now, we have “Devils Dancer” in our live set from this album…so we are changing it, ‘cause the real old songs are so special, that you can’t play them all today, hahahahaha -
TCE: I love the guitar sound of your early records. It was so raw and full of energy. As the band and recording gets better do you feel compelled to change the sound?
Sabina: No, we never will change our foundation sound. It’s still raw and full of energy and although the recordings today sound better, I think, our sound is more raw than ever before. The guitar sound in Holy Moses was always special, ‘cause with Andy and now with Michael, I had always real great guitar players in the band, with a special sound in the fingers.
TCE: Finished With the Dogs was another classic with more focus on songs and hooks. It’s on this record that I really felt you guys hit your stride. “Criminal Assault”, “Rest in Pain” and “Finished with the Dogs’ were pure metal. No one was creating records like that at the time. Did you feel the band really take off and jell as a team? A couple odd tracks on the record include “Road Crew” and “Six Fat Women” could you please tell me what was the history behind them?
Sabina: Thanks very much first. It’s a great feeling for me that you are talking about this. Yeah, these songs and this album are really great, really started the career of Holy Moses. Also, we did the songs without thinking too much. Like you said, the band with Andy and Ulli was a real team and they wrote the titles together with me. When I think about “Six Fat Women” I have to love in my inner self, ‘cause it’s a song about 6 fat women at the beach, being in the sun too long, and they see frogs falling down from the sky… Normally we have really hard lyrics….and we have a full story about the songs…it’s too long now here, but if you have the album in your hands, all the background about the lyrics are in the full-booklet of the re-release.
TCE: New Machine of Liechtenstein has been a very difficult record to find. Will it or “World Chaos” be re-issued on CD as well? Do you ever do any songs off New Machine of Liechtenstein live like “State Catatonic” or “Near Dark”?
Sabina: We are playing now “Lost in the Maze,” “Def Con II” and “SSP” from the album. To play “Near Dark” live, we need a second guitar player on stage, so that the power is coming live…so when we play with only one guitar, we are not playing it live. World Chaos will come out in the US as a re-issued CD also. Yes, all the old albums will come out as re-releases.
TCE: Strength Power Will Passion was a tremendous return for Holy Moses. The guitar sound was heavy as hell and the drums are massive. Where do you see the band going in the future?
Sabina: Straight into the evolution of this album. This last album was, for me, the best we ever did and I don’t want to change that feeling. We are right now working on the new songs, and I now, this new one will break Holy Moses totally. I am happy, that we found back to ourselves with the Strength Power Will Passion album, and like you wrote, I feel the same, this was the way for the future of Holy Moses. So for the next 25 years…
TCE: What are you listening to these days? Do you go back and listen to bands from the early Eighties? Do you listen to bands of today, if so which ones?
Sabina: I am listening to all stuff, ‘cause I am working as a A&R and Label manager for Armageddon Music. Also I do a radio show called MOSH on www.wackenradio.com . So I have to listen to all kinds of Metal nearly 7 days a week the whole day….old and new…from the new stuff I like a lot…..to the old stuff I grew up with. ….I like bands like Children of Bodom….or Caliban, Trivium from the new bands….
TCE: You have been a huge influence on other bands. Do you ever hear that from them?
Sabina: Yes, when I meet other bands, I hear that a lot of times, and I wonder about and also I am happy to hear that from them. Often times I can see it in our guestbook or on our myspace site www.myspace.com/holymosesgermany - bands post messages to me.
TCE: How is your health? You had quite a run there with illness and accidents. Are you back to full strength? Will you be playing any festivals this summer?
Sabina: Yes, it was a time but now it has been four years and I am totally fine. My health is perfect and my strength is coming back with all my power and the will which is in my soul. We play some summer festivals during our new recordings. But we will start at the end of this year with a huge tour.
TCE: Lastly, how do you feel about the state of the record industry? You have survived several label switches, recording budgets, set backs, touring war stories and still you’re standing. How did you do it?
Sabina: Hahahahahaha! Yeah to talk about the record industry, I could write a whole book, perhaps I will sometime! I think I survived, ‘cause I was getting more and more into it. I learned a lot and if you know a lot about it, it’s easier to survive on the other hand, because I know so much about it…..it’s hard to go on, ‘cause you see all the mistakes….it’s a never ending story …. The most important thing I want to say: even if I can look deep into it, I try not to lose my naïve personality and I try to do what I want and not to listen to the wrong people….
TCE: What was your favorite gig and why?
Sabina: It’s always great to play Wacken Open Air but I love all shows, ‘cause every show, even huge festivals or small clubs, is so great to see the fans moshing to our songs and having smiles on their faces, because we are playing. That is the biggest success always….
TCE: It is so great to have you back. Thank you for keeping Holy Moses alive for the fans, and thanks for taking the time to write back.
Sabina: Thank you very much for the great interview and your support through the years…
Website: Holy Moses, Locomotive Records