Their sophomore album “Finished with the Dogs” was definitely a great leap forward for Holy Moses: Sabina’s vocal performance is outstanding, Andy Classen’s riffing is as intense and razor-sharp as it is catchy, bass and drums are no less impressive, and the sound is a lot better, cleaner and more powerful than on the debut. Sabina explains what had happened in between the two albums: “Thanks a lot, I’m glad you perceive it this way – and I think you’re right. It definitely was a great leap forward for us. We learned a lot in between making the two albums. With Uli Kusch an outstandingly talented drummer had joined us. He and Andy formed a perfect team. Both had decided to devote their lives completely to music, and they really spent all their days rehearsing and writing songs.
Now we knew what we had to pay attention to when writing new songs, and we all pushed one another to give our very best. One reason the sound turned out so much better is that Andy and Uli were so extremely tight in their guitar playing. They had such a great influence on my own development; I felt so much freer, my soul felt so liberated because I could let off steam in the music we made. It wasn’t something we had planned to do, it simply happened; we simply did what we felt was right. I continued working to keep the load off Uli and Andy, and they spent the day making music, quitting both work and university. I used to join them in the evenings. Andy got into recording stuff and started to build his own studio at home and in the rehearsal room. He really didn’t do much apart from playing the guitar, he really put all his eggs in one basket.”
Shortly before recording the album Andre Chapalier had stepped in on the bass position. In how far can the great differences between the first two outputs be attributed to the changes in the line-up? Sabina: “It had been a real shock for me when Ramon, who was the founder of the band, told me that he couldn’t do it anymore. He could not give as much for Holy Moses as Uli and Andy did, and so he decided to leave the band; he felt that he had different priorities, and that he could not devote his life to music as the other two did. He then transferred the rights to the name Holy Moses to me and told me ‘Sabina, I want you to make the best out of it, the best that is possible.’ – it really was a shock, all that. He had been taking care of everything, the booking, making contacts, everything… he gave me his folders with all his contacts, and now I was responsible for keeping everything going. That was a difficult task for me, but then I have always been a person who needs difficult tasks, and I tried to do my best.
Now we needed a replacement, and therefore called our producer and our record company. Our producer knew Andre from the band he had in the Ruhr Area and he came in and filled the bass position.”
What about the musical influences of Holy Moses – had they changed? Was it more “Slayer and Destruction, less Venom and Motörhead”, as some people assume? Sabina wouldn’t say so: “No, my taste in music hadn’t really changed. To be honest, I wasn’t really into other bands. I didn’t know Destruction back then, but it’s true that I discovered Slayer during that period, which became one of my favourite bands, together with Venom, Black Sabbath and AC/DC, and that hasn’t changed unto this day. Later, I also discovered Possessed, Bathory and Celtic Frost. Motörhead was rather for Andy, and he also liked KISS a lot.”
Sabina still remembers the recordings very well, because it wasn’t a very easy time for her: “Yes, I do remember the recordings very well, because it all started with another big shock for me: Shortly before, we played a show somewhere in southern Germany where I ripped my diaphragm while I was singing. I wasn’t allowed to stand up and of course not to rehearse, and the only thing I could eat was soup; that’s how I remember it. Our crew looked after me while I was at home. Andy and Uli had already gone into the studio and I followed later. This time we had more studio time and I could spent one whole day on each song. I wasn’t completely fit again and so Ralph, our producer, had the idea to get me some help with my technique. Then one day Peavy from Rage suddenly appeared in the studio. Ralph had hired him as my coach. Peavy helped me a lot with developing my style and technique and he showed me how to bring some variety into my vocals.”
Asked what goals Holy Moses had for “Finished with the Dogs” and if Holy Moses felt any pressure while recording it, Sabina gets almost philosophical: “I’m trying to recall the feelings I had back then, and I’m asking myself, what does ‘pressure’ actually mean? Pressure can be something very positive, the positive impulse to give everything when doing what you do; also, to take satisfaction from your achievements. We were really relaxed when we started recording, because we had the opportunity to do exactly what we wanted to do. There is a terrible idea circulating in our society that says ‘you can be whatever you want to be, you only have to try hard.’ This is so wrong. I rather say that ‘you cannot be whatever you want to be, but you can become more of what you already are’. This has always been my own internal guideline, my credo, and it helped me a lot when we recorded ‘Finished with the Dogs’. It’s all about relying on the strengths and talents you have been given. It was never my goal to become a ‘rockstar’, but I wanted to make the most of my talents.”
Andy Classen had already made some steps in the production business back then, and of course he used these skills for the Holy Moses recordings: “On ‘Finished with the Dogs’, Andy, too, had the perfect opportunity to bring all his skills to bear, and to wake new ones. He observed very closely what the producer was doing, he tried to understand everything that was behind it. He started building up his own studio, though in very small steps, as the equipment was very expensive in those days. But within the bounds of our possibilities, he could realise the first steps at home and in our rehearsal room. I’m happy for Andy that he used his talent so well and has made so much out of it.”
While recording “Finished with the Dogs”, was there perhaps a point in time when the band suddenly knew, yeah, this is it, the album is perfect as it is?
Sabina confirms: “There definitely was a moment when we felt that everything was really awesome and that we had used our talents well and ended up with some great achievements. We loved our songs – and we thought that people would either love it or hate it; that was our attitude already back then, and if people didn’t like us, they should leave us alone and listen to other bands. Nobody is forced to listen to Holy Moses!”
But most people wanted to: The reactions to “Finished with the Dogs” were overwhelmingly positive; and Holy Moses were taken by surprise with the raving reviews they got:
“We were floored when we realised how people celebrated the album – we had neither hoped for this nor expected this. We had no clue that we had created a true milestone in thrash metal historys; and that people would still think so in 2016, we surely hadn’t reckoned with that. To be honest, I still cannot wrap my head around what we started back then – a friend of mine who I only got to know a year ago told me last weekend how he saw us play in the Markthalle in Hamburg in 2007 and that he entered the venue when we were playing the title track of the album. He was blown away by what he saw and by all the memories it called forth in him. It feels so wicked that we were able to create something that had such a long-lasting impact on the scene.”
“Finished with the Dogs” is commonly regarded as Holy Moses’ breakthrough-album, and some fans even rank it among the 2-3 best albums of 1987.
Things must have changed radically for Holy Moses after “Finished…” had been released, right? After all, this album was the kick-off for a world-wide career.
Sabina again: “Going on a real tour together with DRI and Holy Terror was an entirely new experience for us. We finally got out of Aachen and got to see a bit of the world, even if it was only a tour through Germany; but playing the famous Markthalle and other legendary venues was new for us. We also had some requests for shows abroad, and we first had to learn to handle this new situation. It really took up a lot of time and it was all very demanding – I personally got into a heavy conflict between my day job and my live as the Holy Moses vocalist. New people were approaching us and tried to tell us what goals we should set ourselves. Some of them actually believed in us. We couldn’t even tell the difference between a major label and an indie label, but we were told that if we wanted to go on tour, we needed more promotion and more support. We jumped at all the opportunities we were given because it all sounded so exciting. In the meantime we had made friends with a couple of other bands, and so we started looking for a bigger record company.”
Some people regard “Finished With The Dogs” as Holy Moses’ very early “career height”. Sabina won’t agree to this: “Sure, some people might think so, especially those who got us to know through ‘Finished with the Dogs’.
I feel a special love for this album, it is my personal memorial of a new found freedom and light-heartedness. It marked the point in my life when I knew that ‘I can’t be everything, but I can be more of what I already am.’ There is one important thing – I’m not just Holy Moses, I’m a lot more than that.”
Now, to get back to the album once again: what song on the album does Sabina like best? Perhaps “Current of Death”, as many other people do? “Very short: YES! Current of Death is my all-time-favourite song!”
If you ever wondered about where the album title comes from, or if there is a special story behind it – here is the answer: “When Uli Kusch joined Holy Moses we had to collect his drum kit from his old rehearsal room. Uli had the key to the door, but the gate to the backyard was locked. So he and Andy had to climb over it. Just as their feet touched ground, two huge watchdogs came running, and as both guys were terribly afraid of dogs, they literally jumped back over the gate; but they still had to figure out how to ‘finish with the dogs’ – and they made it! That’s the story behind the album title – a true bonding moment for the band. I am so glad that I got the chance to release this record – a big thanks goes out to Uli and Andy for the great times we had and of course to everyone who was involved in making this record, or who supported us – and most important of all: our fans!”