Hanno Klänhardt of MANTAR on Music, Mass Hysteria and Burning Mankind Down
Mantar’s reign began only a few short years ago, but has propelled them to dizzying heights. Ahead of their European tour, guitarist and vocalist Hanno Klänhardt sat down with Cvlt Nation to discuss DIY spirit, volume and being wary of false prophets…
So you’ve got the new record just about to drop. Talk to me through it – what’s new on The Modern Art Of Setting Ablaze?
I think that we finally – although I really do like the first and the second records – we finally found out what our strengths are; we skipped all the bullshit and just concentrated on our strengths. And therefore I think that the new songs on the new record are just better produced and a little bit more in your face and a little bit more catchy and a little bit shorter, and come to the point a bit faster so to say. I think the overall song writing got better. Also I think it’s due to the fact that I’ve lived in the United States now for a few years and Erinç (Sakarya, drums) is still in Germany. We had to figure out a new way of writing songs – that actually enlightened our creativity a bit because we tour so much as we’ve been so busy within the last four years constantly touring and shit that we needed to give each other some time in order to be creative and that worked very well. I sit at home in Florida on the porch and write music and do my thing then I come to Germany and meet up with Erinç and based on the material I’ve gathered at home and on tour we make songs of it. Quick and dirty, but I have more time before that to write better music.
I’ve read that you guys have a fire theme for this record, which I think you’ve explored before. Talk me through that; why have you guys continued with that theme?
Fire is just something that is very exciting – exciting is the wrong word – but fire, I’m very impressed by fire. The concept of fire is such a strong element and it doesn’t allow any other element next to it. It has the ability, the power to wipe out any kind of plague in the world – most likely we’re all gonna be gone in a big fire one day when the planet is getting rid of the plague – I don’t wanna say mankind is a plague necessarily, but you get my drift. Also what I like about the philosophical idea of fire is that nothing is left but ashes, and that always stands metaphorically for a new start. Fire has the power to reset everything to zero, and that’s a very romantic idea because I think we all sometimes fantasise or desire to reset everything. And so does nature, and so fire makes you think about burning and nothing left but ashes, and stuff like that tells you how you are not important to this planet and – you know, it takes me away from taking myself too seriously, I guess.
Your music is very immediate, cathartic and raw – I definitely see the connection there. Moving on, what can you tell me about the music influences on this record? I know you guys have a huge list of bands you’re influenced by – is there anything new you’ve brought in that you weren’t able to previously?
Well I don’t think so. I think that I didn’t do that on purpose, I did it by accident. I think I listened more to classic metal records than I did before, and I think that might have influenced the songwriting or the way that I create guitar riffs. I think they are very catchy and very powerful – I think that every song on the album has a very unique guitar riff, and the riff itself for a two-piece band is the only hard currency. So I can’t give you any names or anything… I like songs. I adore black metal – it’s not my thing to write eight or ten minute black metal epic soundscapes or whatever. I grew up on AC/DC, Thin Lizzy, Motörhead, and ZZ Top or what have you, or punk, I have a DIY punk background. I wanna write songs y’know! No matter how heavy and how intense and how brutal, I still like songs and I think we are on the peak with this record because we skipped all the bullshit and only concentrated on the parts that make you groove without being cheesy.
It’s very rare that I discover a new band that changes my way of thinking or changes my approach to creating my own music. I do not listen to the music I play at all, I listen to usually very raw black metal, and also I love listening to dub music, a sub-genre of reggae, because there are a lot of similarities – the repeating patterns and hypnosis and super-long songs and stuff like that. Also I listen to old German electronica, like Kraftwerk and stuff like that, or even Krautrock like Can and stuff like that. I listen to bluegrass or even jazz, and I like classic metal. Maybe due to the fact that I listen to all that kind of music my own music is so different – maybe I need to listen to music that is very different from my own music in order to play the best possible Mantar music I can. If I would listen to bands who are more like ourselves, maybe we would start to try to copy it even unconsciously y’know? I always try to avoid that.
On writing short songs and fat-trimming, I think it’s interesting to see a lot of extreme music moving to either two directions…
Sorry to interrupt you – I think that pretty much every freaking band is moving into the direction of making longer songs, and they hide behind a big layer of effects and long intros and long outros. My two cents is that only very few bands succeed in that; for me personally only a few bands can keep my attention for a span of twelve minutes or whatever, some black metal bands can do that and they literally take me on a trip, on a journey. But other bands, I think they just do it because they don’t know any better. They don’t know yet, they haven’t figured out that they don’t have songs! Because they don’t have riffs and they don’t have the beat. I think I’m a very primitive person and I like playing primitive music, but in playing that primitive stuff I try the best I can, and personally I always have the feeling that bands try to cover up the fact that they have no idea what they actually want to do. For Mantar, it’s very obvious – we like to fuck shit up! We like to celebrate this beautiful moment of violence – it’s almost like the two-face thing, we face each other on stage. It’s almost like a fight, like a boxing match. We get lost – we totally are in our own world in this very moment and therefore it is primitive on purpose. But I think people actually like that we have literally nothing to hide, not even the instruments. It’s gotta be intense and some sort of… one-dimensional in order to work.
Following-on from that, I think it’s obvious that you guys tour a lot – they definitely feel like they’re songs meant for a live experience.
Yeah because for us there’s no difference between live and studio – we record with the same equipment we use live. We just put microphones in front of it and play and record it. For us it’s the same thing, and afterwards we decide what songs work best and out ’em in the live set. It would be pointless for me writing material where we know exactly that we’re never gonna play it live.
Absolutely. So – are you guys on tour at the moment or getting ready to tour?
Well right now we are playing all these music festivals – we start with Maryland Deathfest in the States and the last festival is gonna be…. I dunno, something in Germany. Next week is freaking Wacken! Friday we fly to Metaldays in Slovenia, we’re still gonna play Bloodstock in the UK, we played a shittonne of all these big European metal festivals – it’s great that we’re in the place to play so much stuff. And then we take a quick break like for two months or something because the last free day I had some was sometime last year! And then we go on tour with our friends in Skeletonwitch – we invited them out to tour with us in Europe for a month.
I noticed you were playing a lot of very big festivals. Is there any one in particular you’re super-stoked to play?
No – we treat them all the same- energy. I know it sounds cheesy because a lot of bands say that but we try to always play the same show no matter if it’s fifty or fifty thousand people. We started from a very DIY background. There were a lot of shows in the first year or two of the band where we played in front of twenty people, and in order to make them come back you really needed to slay. And we still have that intention. Just because there’s a lot of people at the front of the stage doesn’t necessarily mean they know you – sometimes we come to countries where your band ain’t popular yet. So you have to play with the same kind of intensity that you play in an underground squat in front of 10 people in order to convince them that you’re the craziest… or at least a fucking good band, and it’s worth the money that they paid. We play with the same mindset still. Therefore we play every show the same, with as much power as we can and as intense as possible, and sometimes that will work better when people give you a lot of feedback and people go crazy y’know, that makes things very much easier. Let’s say Portugal, Spain or even France are sometimes a bit easier because the people are outgoing and very straightforward – they fucking cheer and they go crazy. And then you play in Finland for instance, and you’ve been told everybody loves it, everybody’s been looking forward to seeing your band, but the people move or don’t move or they move in a different way, y’know. It’s just very different how people react to your music and sometimes the most important thing is that the people work with you and vice versa. The feedback you get while playing helps a lot making the show fun or really, really good, and not just solid. So it doesn’t matter where we play as long as people dig the bands and we can go do our thing.
So you guys are a two-piece but you run a lot of amps on stage. How do you achieve your live sound?
Well, with a lot of volume! First of all, I play a lot of amplifiers at the same time; at least two guitar amplifiers and one bass amplifier – I always make sure to provide a lot of bottom end because we don’t have a bass. You could say the third member of the band is volume – we’re just fucking loud! We choose the biggest possible drums we can get our hands on, huge-ass cymbals… and yeah, it’s a display of power (laughs).
It’s always keen to see a two-piece really going for that huge set-up. Are there advantages to running a band as a two-piece as opposed to as a three- or four-piece?
Well the logistics and travel are of course easier, and you can do a load more things on short notice. Also there’s a democracy; if one of us doesn’t like an idea, we don’t do it. If you have a three-piece band and two people like the idea and one is against it there’s always one person who’s bummed out. That kinda thing doesn’t happen because we discuss everything and it’s either we do it in common sense or we don’t. That’s an advantage, of course. A disadvantage is you never get the chance to hide from each other. You never get the chance to hang with the bass player one day and the other day on tour you spend with the guitar player in order to give yourself some space – it’s like a marriage, you’re always constantly together and therefore you have to develop methods in order to sort problems and conflicts. But we’re good at that probably because we’ve known each other for 21 years, even though we’ve only been a band for four/five years now but we’ve been friends for many, many, many years before we started this band, so we know each other and how the other one works and stuff like that. That’s the disadvantage – you have to be super-sensitive about each other’s mood all the time.
Whereabouts are you heading with the Skeletonwitch tour?
That’s Europe, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, UK, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, you name it…
Who else is supporting?
We have Evil Invaders from Belgium and we have a great band called Deathrite from Germany. I like this tour package a lot because all the bands are different from each other. Evil Invaders are like thrash metal, Deathrite is more like Entombed, a very crusty Swedish death metal version and Skeletonwitch is blackened death metal – I dunno how you wanna call it – and Mantar is probably a mixture out of that of all of it. People should be very happy with that because it’s not like “hey we have four thrash metal bands or four black metal bands.” It should be very entertaining.
I’ve noticed recently that a lot of lineups are kinda diversifying. I feel like people’s music tastes are generally getting broader – I’ve seen a lot of lineups on extreme metal tours broader that they would have been previously. Do you think this is the case?
Oh absolutely I think this is a good thing – there’s a lot of people just like me, dude – I enjoy black metal just as much as, let’s say, good death metal. I would love to see a good punk band with, let’s say, Bolt Thrower or someone like that, because I know the spirit of the band is pretty much the same, it’s just the music that’s different. I would love to see way more of that, or some black metal band playing with punk bands, and punk bands playing with – you name it! I think the mindset of the people – how they present their art, it’s way more important that that has common ground instead of the actual sound of the music. Of course it’s gotta be hard, it’s gotta be loud, it’s gotta be intense. But personally I do not need to see four or five bands – doom metal for instance, can be the best music in the world… but if you have five mediocre doom metal bands a night it’s a fucking horrible nightmare! It’s the definition of boredom.
I see it with festivals as well. lineups are crazy diverse – it really does make a difference especially when you’re looking for new stuff. I find when you’re in the mindset where you wanna look for more bands and then you have to sit through four or five things that aren’t very good, it can be… especially grating.
Yeah! I agree.
So I wanna take you back to the record; what can you tell me about the album artwork you’ve picked?
It’s a picture from our hometown in Bremen, Germany where we grew up – where we met for the first time at the end of the 90s. It’s called Der Lichtbringer, which means the bringer of light, the lightbearer so to speak and it’s very majestic and I really like the way it looks. But it also has a very dark background and in order to underline the message of the record… when I say the modern art of setting ablaze – which of course refers to the fire in the heads of the people when they deny or refuse to think for themselves that there is a form of false prophets or leaders – that goes very well with the name of the artwork. The artwork was made in the 30s to flatter the Nazi party and the Nazi party didn’t like it, they kicked the artist out of the Nazi party. But what’s way more interesting is that after WWII they tried to cover up the initial meaning of the artwork – they said “hey it’s just an angel fighting some sort of dark power” – that’s not what it is, [it was made] in order to flatter the fascist regime.
I think we live in crazy times in Europe – also in the United States, I think you know what I’m referring to. People are falling for these leaders and the false prophets because they deny thinking for themselves and that’s history repeating forever and ever and ever! And that’s something that scares me, that people hide behind the hate of the masses instead of thinking for themselves. That cover art is not like a fucking pile of corpses or a nun fucking herself with a cross, it’s a very silent dark piece of art which was perfect to point out my intentions behind the lyrics and goes hand in hand with the modern art of setting ablaze because it’s all about manipulation, and that’s why this piece of art was made one day, and its crazy that this art still hangs in our hometown with no explanation why it was made. People just try to forget about it instead of alerting people to say, “hey this shit is just as dangerous” – always has been – because people always fall for leaders and hide in the masses. The neverending stupidity of man is like a never ending source of inspiration for artists, I guess.
I saw that when it was announced – I thought it was really interesting, pushing people towards doing research behind this kind of thing, provoking people into doing their own research and checking their own facts behind this kind of thing.
We’re not a political band in the sense that we work with slogans. I don’t want people to act according to my lyrics, that’s why we don’t print them. I don’t judge, I just… point my finger and tell the people what I see. I want people to follow for themselves and not follow any kind of leader, not even a singer of a band or whatever. Fucking use your brain! And yeah, that’s what it’s all about. “The modern art of setting ablaze” refers to the fire in the mind of the people – they allow it to set in the mind and let it control them. And one person alone might be a very intelligent person, but if it’s only one of them, its already a hysterical mass because there’s something deep inside every human that fall for shit all the time and maybe mankind isn’t ready to reach another level of spiritualism yet. We’re just fucking animals.
After the current touring schedule is up, what have you got planned?
We’re gonna do the Europe tour, and after that we’ll go home and probably do another tour. We’re supposed to do a tour in Australia, we’re supposed to do a tour in South America, supposed to go the United States again. Life is so short man, we try to make everything happen but it’s a lot of stuff to do, nowadays we play eight hundred dates a year and then we have to figure our what to do next we actually we never do long-term plans. I’m pretty good with that.