Accuser's René Schütz Talks Returning To The Band, Building A New Album Together, And Playing 'Thrash In A Box'

German Thrash Metal band Accuser have released a new self-titled album via Metal Blade with twelve finely-tuned tracks. Self-titling their twelfth studio album sends a specific message: they want the world to know that guitarist René Schütz has rejoined the band after a significant hiatus, and that this album, stylistically, celebrates some of the musical elements from the 80s and 90s that helped build their fandom, all while looking toward the future.

The music, and the band, seem energized, particularly if you check out their recent music video for "Phantom Graves" featuring live playing, and their very polished full live concert video, "Thrash in a Box", where they play through the entire new album to celebrate its launch. The concert was presented to fans for free and continues the band's long relationship with The Vortex Surfer Musikclub. 

René Schütz spoke with Tower's PULSE! about his return to the band, the return of the friendships there that mean as much to him as the music does, how they set about recording the new album, and the band's thinking behind streaming their free concert.

Hannah Means-Shannon: There are several cool vinyl variants available for the new Accuser record. Is vinyl something that you and the band are fond of?

René Schütz: I actually didn’t know until a few weeks ago that there were several types of vinyl for this one. I thought it would just be black vinyl. I think the other band members knew before me! When I saw four vinyl styles, I thought, “Wow! That’s great!” Because I’m a very big vinyl fan, a big collector, and I still buy every album that I can on vinyl if it’s available. It makes me proud. When I hold the vinyl for a record in my hands that’s a great thing.

HMS: Has Accuser always released on vinyl, or is that a new thing for the band?

RS: Back in the old days, we released on vinyl because it was before CDs. So the first two albums came out on vinyl and I was really proud. But the third record was released on CD, which was new at the time. Then there was no more vinyl until the reunion. The last three records from Metal Blade have been released on vinyl. Then there was also a reissue of Repent that was also released on vinyl.

HMS: Yes, I recally seeing that! It makes sense particularly for this album to release on vinyl because it’s a record that honors the history of the band and reminds people of the cool elements of the 80s and 90s associated with the band.

RS: Yes, it is, since the roots of the band are definitely in the 80s. The sound on this record returns a little to the past of the band, and also shows a little from the future of the band. So having vinyl totally fits into our concept.

HMS: It sounds like making this album was an opportunity to think about what kinds of sounds you liked the best from the history of the band.

RS: I would say it was more of a creative process. When the record was written, during the beginning of the writing process, I actually was not back in the band yet. But when I returned, there was a lot of discussion with Frank about the songwriting. My return to the band had not really been planned. I replaced their guitarist for one show and played it. And the feeling was just amazing.

So everyone said, “Hey, man, the feeling is back so let’s do it again!” And that was during the songwriting process. So it was a natural progression to look back on the past of the band and for that to influence the songwriting. But it definitely hadn’t been planned.

There are a lot of songs on the record that are not just influenced by the past, though. I think it’s both where Accuser has been and where it’s going to be.

HMS: That’s a great story! I didn’t know your return was such a surprise. Did that one gig change your life? Were you shocked or surprised that this thing had happened which meant you had a big decision to make?

RS: All of that. I was surprised and I was shocked. Because when I left the band ten years ago, we had had some bad times. We’d had a lot of arguments and we used to be very good friends. When I left the band, all the friendships, for me, broke down. But Accuser had always been a big part of my life, so all during that time, I thought about coming back to the band. Sometimes when I heard the old records playing, I thought, “Maybe someday I’ll go back.” But I had no contact with the band.

Then five or six years ago, Frank Thoms suddenly called me, not to ask me to rejoin the band, but just to ask how I was doing. At that point, we were more and more in contact and our friendship grew. At that time I was more aware of what the band was doing, even though I was not a member. I got more mentally involved. So when Frank called and asked me to fill in for that festival, I thought, “Yes!” And at that time, it was not at all clear that I would be back in the band, so I just enjoyed my time on the stage with the guys doing some of the old songs. It was a really great feeling for me. After the show, the guys asked me, “Would you like to be in the band again.”

I was in some other bands during that break that were not Accuser. I had a Motorhead tribute band that was fairly successful but not that much fun. My musical roots are definitely with Accuser.

HMS: That’s so wonderful. I have heard a few stories lately of musicians with a lot of history reconnecting and rediscovering relationships. Maybe time passing gives more of a perspective on what people have in common.

RS: I think that’s definitely true. As people get older, they focus on different things. I think that friendship, and being together with friends, definitely means much more as you get older. Even more if you’ve missed them. It’s good for your heart and brain if you can rebuild those friendships. Sometimes that means more than even making music, for me. In this case, I can combine both.

HMS: I saw a quote from Frank Thoms about this album, that is was the “most exhausting” album he’s ever made. Do you feel the same way about it? Did he mean that it was a really intense experience?

RS: I do feel the same way. I think what he meant by that is that the band was really focused from being together. It was a special feeling, even for Frank and the other guys, not just for me. I think he’s referring to this special feeling of being back together, an aura that influenced all the recording and writing. We were totally excited about all the songs before we recorded them and wanted to make sure they were the best thing that we had ever done. The band had existed for so long, 35 years, and this is the 12th album, so we have these intense feelings about it.

For me, it had to be perfect. I wanted to show people that I was back and could still do it. It was hard work for me to write all the harmonies and things and try to create leads that were outstanding but would still fit into the songs.

HMS: The record really sounds great. The guitar parts are awesome, so I think you did an excellent job on that.

RS: Thank you. I’m most proud of the leads on the album that are not just fast, like a lot of Thrash bands do, but are also combined with a lot of melody. I’m a big Wishbone Ash fan, and all this great stuff on the Argus album that came out in 1972. That was a very big inspiration for me and where my musical roots are. There are always things I have in mind when I write melody lines. For me, there have to be melodies. If you’re playing loud and fast, and that’s all, it sounds the same. I think there needs to be peaks and troughs. It keeps people interested. But the more melodic the solos are, the heavier and faster the parts which come after it can be. That was my intention.

HMS: That’s so inspiring that you look to different musicians and genres to develop your style. I wouldn’t necessarily expect a Thrash Metal guitarist to tell me that they look toward a Folk sound in the 1970s. Did you ever play in other styles?

RS: Yes, a little bit. I had a Blues Rock band where I still sometimes do some rehearsals, but not much lately. I’m not actually able to interact with Accuser or anyone else [due to the pandemic]. But the older you get, your focus returns more to your roots. When I formed Accuser with Frank, there was no thought of Wishbone Ash on my mind. I wanted to get as hard and as fast as I could get, although I would always try to create good leads.

But as I got older, I realized, “What about these guys? And these guys?”, from the past. “Why not listen to them? Why not get influences from them?” It’s not good for a musician to focus only on one style of music. To me, that’s stereotypical of the Metal scene. They look like Metal, and live and breathe Metal, but for me, it’s good to break out. I love Metal, and I love Thrash Metal, but there’s so much great music close to Metal that it’s definitely worth it to hear it.

HMS: That’s a great message.

Was this album recorded all at once or over a long period of time?

RS: It wasn’t so long. I think it was four weeks. We started by recording the drums, then the bass the next week, then one rhythm guitar part, then the vocals, then the lead. I think the previous album was recorded in two weeks, and this one took four weeks. But the songs were totally arranged before going into the studio on this one. Sometimes bands work on songs while in the studio, but the songs were definitely ready this time. The drummer changed a few things, but really, we just had to record.

HMS: That’s pretty fast.

RS: Yes, it was fast. I did the lead guitars in one and a half days. The rhythm guitars took two or three days. People were really prepared. And it worked.

HMS: Was that the first time you went into a studio to record an album in quite a long time?

RS: For me, personally, yes. I did some demos with bands that I was in when I was not with Accuser. I did some guest leads for some bands, and that was all. As for studio recording experiences doing an album, this was the first time for, I think ten years.

HMS: Did you find that any of the technology or approaches had changed in the meantime?

RS: There were definitely many things that had changed. The last record I did with Accuser was in a local studio here, in our hometown. Equipment-wise, it was a totally different thing. Even when we did records in America in the 90s, it was all analog equipment. We used Kemper amps for the recording this time, which was pretty new to me. Sound-wise it was totally different. And the records I recorded ten years ago were a different technical standard.

HMS: I heard about and have seen the live performance that the band released, “Thrash in a Box”, filmed at a local venue. How did you decide to create that and work with that venue?

RS: For us, it was not an unusual thing to do, because we have a lockdown in Germany and can’t play shows. But when the record was released, we wanted to play a live release show at that club, The Vortex Surfer Musikclub. That was a tradition. It was clear that if we wanted to do something, it would be at that club, which is pretty famous. The owner is a very, very nice guy. We wanted to basically do a live release show, though it’s not really live. I’m a little bit afraid that this is going to be our future, having to stay at home.

HMS: Me too! I really love live performance and I go to a lot of small shows and big shows under normal circumstances. I’m glad people are going online because it does give fans a connection and an introduction to new music. I thought the show was really great because you played all of the new songs, and also that you put the titles on the screen for each song so people could learn the new album.

I guess the ideal thing is that someday when you can play this album live, people might know the songs already and be able to join in more.

RS: Most reactions to the show have been great. For us, it was the first time that we played a show without an audience, just to cameras. It was really strange since you can’t really act in front of cameras the way that you would to an audience, but we did our best.

HMS: The show felt very polished and well-presented. What was the thinking behind releasing the whole concert for free to fans on Youtube rather than having it as a ticketed event?

RS: We think that to have ticketed events where people pay for the livestream should be for musicians who make their living from their music. They really need it and are in a very bad situation right now. A lot of people I talk to here in Germany are totally down and have no money. These people should do paid streams. But we don’t have to because we all have other jobs and we can pay for our food and for anything we need.

I also am the owner of a little music store here in my town, and people are not coming to buy stuff as much, so it’s also a hard time for me, but I really do not need to be paid for playing. It’s not even just the musicians, but also the lighting guys, the catering guys, the guys who drive the trucks. Everyone is out of a job right now.

HMS: That’s very generous of you, to fans, to do make your shows free, and it’s great to show such solidarity for other people in the music industry who might be struggling to try to send revenue their way.

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