Guitarist Bernd ‘Bernemann’ Kost had spent most of his musical career in thrash kings Sodom, having been recruited by founder Tom Angelripper in 1996. And when sticksman Markus ‘Makka’ Freiwald joined the German act in 2010, the pair formed a successful partnership with Sodom’s legendary bassist/vocalist over the course of two albums – and countless tours and festivals.
So when Angelripper announced in 2018 that he had parted ways with the pair, citing his desire to start again with “fresh and hungry musicians”, it shocked the metal community, as well as Sodom’s international fanbase.
The fact that Bernemann and Makka claimed that they’d been jettisoned via WhatsApp added fuel to the fire. It seemed to be out of the blue. Unexpected.
But you can’t keep two of metal’s most battled hardened veterans down for long.
2018 saw the duo team up with Chris Tsitsis (ex-Suicidal Angels, Destroy Them) as second guitarist, Marc Hauschild on bass and Ingo Bajonczak of Assassin. Together they created Bonded… and built a melodic thrash powerhouse.
The quintet quickly set about working on their debut, Rest In Violence, which landed earlier this year to much acclaim – and this month Bonded announced a string of live dates for November.
It has certainly been a rapid return to the fray for Bernemann and Makka…
“We were out of Sodom and of course we were sad and disappointed about that situation,” recalls Bernemann. “But otherwise we were used to playing and writing songs together. Makka and I were living pretty close together in Dortmund and we have the rehearsal room here in Dortmund, so more or less nothing changed for us.
“We kept on meeting at the rehearsal room and writing new songs.
“We knew sooner or later we would find some buddies and we would come back!”
The guitarist continues: “Chris and Mark came very quickly into the band. We had known each other for a long time and by this time, I already had written a lot of songs and basics for song structures.
“Later, when Ingor came into the band. he wrote the lyrics and he had the melody lines – that was one reason why I liked Ingor very much, he has fantastic ideas for hooklines and melodies.”
Bernemann doesn’t seem bitter about his departure from Sodom.
Ask him about it two years on and he’s philosophical about Angelripper’s decision…
“I was in Sodom for nearly 22 years, so when Makka and I found ourselves in that situation two years ago at first we were shocked,” he says. “Then in the next minute it wasn’t really a big surprise for me. We didn’t talk about it, we didn’t have any trouble, but I felt in the last years, more and more we had this different point of view (to Angelripper) about the future of Sodom.”
Back in the present, does he feel that he has a new sense of freedom compared to his time in Sodom, now that he can claim to be a ‘founding member’ of a new band?
“I never felt captured or that I couldn’t realise my ideas,” he says of his lengthy stint with Sodom. “Very quickly after Code Red I had all the freedom to write songs. Sometimes Tom would say, ‘I don’t like this, or I don’t like that’ and songs changed, especially with the lyrics and vocals.
“But really, I could write the riffs I like so now I am doing the same thing, like I did for the last 22 years, but only with another singer!”
However, after playing in a trio in his Sodom days, it’s clear Bernemann is now relishing the opportunity to trade riffs and solos with another guitarist. “Chris is a very great guy, I have known him for a very long time and it is really fun to play with him,” says the six-stringer. “I guess if a band has two guitarists that fit perfectly together it makes sense. It’s not always good if you have two guitarists, but with Chris it’s great. I’m really enjoying having him in the band!”
The formula seems to be working. Bernemann raises a big smile when he talks about stepping out on stage with Bonded, describing the experience as like finding “a new spirit”. And he’s also delighted by the reaction of many Sodom fans to his new project.
But after scorching his way through albums such as Decision Day, M-16, Epitome Of Torture and In War In Pieces, it’s perhaps no surprise that there was strong interest in what the Deutsche thrash stalwart did post-Sodom.
And it’s testimony to Bernemann and Makka’s metal cred that one of the scene’s best known faces, Overkill’s Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth, wanted to appear on Bonded’s debut. The New Jersey native put his formidable vocal cords to good use on the album’s title track, helping to make the song (which also features former Kreator bass-player Christian ‘Speesy’ Giesler) one of the record’s undoubted highlights.
It turns out that Ellsworth didn’t take more persuading to get in the studio booth…
“When Overkill are over here and playing close to my home city, Bobby usually sends me a message inviting me to come to the shows, and we are always more or less in contact.
“Last year Bobby was playing in Osnabrück. He invited me to come have a beer and he asked about the new band. I told him it was looking good, we had a contract with Century Media and I said that I was really happy because Speesy is a good friend of mine and I thought Speesy would play on a song for us.
“Then Bobby said, ‘hmm do you think I can sing on this song?’. I said, ‘Bobby, do you really need to ask me?’. I was so happy! It was very cool from him. That made me very happy because as far as I know, he never did that before for another band.”
Over the last 12 months, we’ve seen a surge of creativity from thrash metal’s old guard. New records from Testament, Death Angel, Sacred Reich and indeed, Ellsworth’s Overkill have all tuned heads. Vio-Lence are back with Phil Demmel on guitar. In the UK, Acid Reign and Xentrix have returned to action. Then, of course, there’s Bonded.
So why does thrash not only refuse to die, but keep giving us neck-snapping new albums to dig in to?
“It’s really intense,” replies Bernemann. “And I guess people like Bobby have it in their blood. This guy is so authentic and not only him, look at Testament, for these people it’s a lifestyle, they live thrash metal.
“These people love what they are doing. Like a lot of musicians, I can’t live from the money. I never could. I have had a job in a factory all of my life. But I love to make music and I love to make metal and thrash metal. You can’t stop, it’s that feeling of going to shows, going with your friends, having some beers…”
Time, though, will eventually catch up with the German. And if Bonded ends, he admits that he doesn’t know if he’ll start another band.
So, he’s simply living for the moment.
And who can blame him?
“I will do my very best and do all I can to be successful with Bonded,” says Bernemann. “We enjoy ourselves so much! We are happy when we are on tour, when we can play some shows, when we meet fans, and when you can see happy faces from the stage.
“Of course, we want to earn a little money, but all of us have regular jobs. Fun is motivation number one at this point.
“I don’t want to think about ‘I want to reach this, or I want to reach that’. I want to reach as much as possible… and let’s see what the future brings.”
Rest In Violence is out now on Century Media.