The Austrian and legendary Metal band PUNGENT STENCH used to be a real outsider in the Death Metal scene. PUNGENT STENCH didn’t only surprise musically by not sticking to the rules and putting the most diverse influences in their music. The band also had a unique sense of humour and combined this with artwork and lyrics which were often just a step too far for many people. This month, the whole discography of PUNGENT STENCH is being re-issued by Dissonance Productions. And the special thing is that there’s also an unreleased album, “Smut Kingdom”. I had a pleasant conversation with ex-drummer Alex Wank.
I received a lot of promo-links lately. And they’re all links to the re-releases of the whole discography of PUNGENT STENCH, as well as a new album called “Smut Kingdom”. All these albums are going to be released by Dissonance Productions. Whose idea was it to re-release all this stuff?
“I have been thinking about the idea for these re-issues and the release of “Smut Kindom” for quite some time. It was just a question of time. In 2016, I started talking to Schirenc and I initiated the deal with Dissonance Productions as I know the man behind that label. I knew it’s a strong company that is also doing very well. So, Dissonance seemed like the best partner for us. Schirenc agreed and so I contacted them and they were quite happy. After we made the deal for the old albums, we also talked about our unreleased album. And they were also more than happy to release that one. But it took me over a year to get everything solved. I was also a bit lazy, I must say (laughs). Dissonance wanted bonus material. And so I had to go through a lot of old cassettes with recordings of concerts. That took a really long time. A year went by in no time. And then Dissonance needed about half a year to put everything in order, work it out and prepare things properly. I don’t understand why they released everything altogether to be honest. I wouldn’t have done that. I would have released two records and then half a year later the next two. Because it’s a lot of material if you want to buy it all. But maybe it’s more interesting this way promotion wise.”
The live recordings which are used as bonus material sound surprisingly good if you keep in mind that they were taken from ordinary cassettes.
“I think we made all those recordings at the time through the mixing-desk. And then you are automatically close to the source. They are all first generation recordings and not copies. At least I hope so (laughs). They’re all taken from cassettes. But the result is indeed okay. In the beginning, we didn’t play that many shows. But as a band, you want to hear how you actually sound live. So we recorded most of our shows that way. And that’s the reason why all these recordings were still existing. Back then, many people also just recorded our shows in the audience with a walkman. But the sound of those recordings was simply not good and clear enough."
There has been quite a pretty bad relationship between Schirenc and you for years because in 2013 Schirenc started to play shows under the name THE CHURCH OF PUNGENT STENCH. You even filed a lawsuit against him at the time. Are you on good terms with him again in the meantime?
“No, our relationship is still not good and will never be like it used to be. When Schirenc came up with THE CHURCH OF PUNGENT STENCH, he wanted to sell it as a reunion of the band. But it was not. It was Schirenc solo with the help of two extra musicians. And I thought you couldn’t present that project as PUNGENT STENCH. Because it wasn’t, it was his solo attempt. During the trial, I was proven right on all counts. And that is also why Schirenc was later forced to change the name (Schirenc has been giving concerts under the name SCHIRENC PLAYS PUNGENT STENCH for several years now - Steven). I have no problems with the name SCHIRENC PLAYS PUNGENT STENCH. Because that is clear. And that’s important to me.”
Have you ever seen SCHIRENC PLAYS PUNGENT STENCH live?
“No, why would I do that? I have never even listened to it. I could do it easily on YouTube. But why should I? They are just a coverband to me. I never listen to my own music and my own albums. Why should I?”
As I said previously, I received all the re-releases and the new album as promo links. My colleagues at Voices From The Darkside have received the finished products, I think. Because in their reviews, they mentioned a lack of information regarding the recordings on the compilation “First Recordings”. And apparently the tracklisting on the albums doesn’t always fully correspond with the CDs. So I was wondering if you’re really satisfied with these releases?
“Absolutely! I mean, I compiled these CDs. Regarding “First Recordings”, I could have indeed mentioned that it contains this demo and that EP. But I don’t think it’s really necessary. I mean, nobody will buy that album without knowing what he or she buys. It’s not an album for a regular audience. It’s really something for a fan of the band who has the original version or misses the original version and wants to have it now. Everybody knows what it is. I don’t think I have to state that. But of course, mistakes happen. Two mistakes happened and I just noticed that when I received the CDs myself. There’s a live bonustrack missing on “Been Caught Buttering”, as well as on “For God Your Soul… For Me Your Flesh”. I sent Dissonance all the live recordings. And then they designed the artwork. But the guy who did the mastering noticed that the running time was too long. It ran over eighty minutes. So I told him to make the CDs as full as possible. But the design was made before we decided to erase these tracks. And we forgot to adapt the design. That’s a mistake, but I can live with that. When the albums will be repressed, this will be fixed. And this way, the first edition will maybe even be worth something for collectors, I don’t know (laughs).”
In addition to all the old releases, there’s also a new album - “Smut Kingdom” - which has never been released before. After the album was recorded in the fall of 2006 and the spring of 2007, PUNGENT STENCH fell apart shortly afterwards. Why did it actually take so long before this album got released?
“The thing is that back then, we had no deal. Our recording contract with Nuclear Blast ended after “Ampeauty”. Nuclear Blast is an incredibly big label. And we just didn’t feel at home there. I already knew this in 2000 when we reformed. But Markus Staiger was a big fan of us and he wanted to have one of his old bands back on his label. This was all good, but it was also a mistake. I mean, Nuclear Blast is a huge and commercial label. And we have nothing to do with them. It was just not the right place for us. We split on good terms and after the tour for “Ampeauty” we just started writing new songs. The idea was to look for a new contract later on. But when the time came, we simply had enough and we just split up. There was no contract and there were no obligations. And that’s why that album was never released. Afterwards there was also the lawsuit, all sorts of personal problems and this and that. And all that prolonged everything. But with the re-release of our back catalogue, I think the time was right to release “Smut Kingdom” as well.”
I’m very familiar with your music. I have listened to “Smut Kingdom” quite often over the past few weeks. And I think it’s a really strong album that has all the elements that always characterized PUNGENT STENCH: the groove ('Brute', 'Persona Non Grata'), the humour ('Suicide Bombshell') and the striking artwork.
“I hope so (laughs). It was just the logical successor of “Ampeauty”. We just progressed and did our thing as always. We also went a bit more back to our roots and put influences of bands like CARNIVORE and VOIVOD into that album. But we have always had our own style. You could always effortlessly recognize us from dozens of other bands. We thought that was important. I must say that it’s quite bizarre to promote a record now that we made more than ten years ago. Because to me, it seems not so long ago. As a musician, you never really listen to your own music. In all those years I have literally never listened to “Smut Kingdom”. Once a record is recorded, the process is over for me. Normally you go on tour later and play the songs live. But we have never done that with “Smut Kingdom”. I have therefore not such a close connection with that record. But I still remember everything… the songwriting process and which direction we wanted to go. It’s certainly a good album and a logical continuation of what we did then. I think it passed the test of time and I hope people will like it.”
Apparently you can also hear Dr. Heathen Scum (THE MENTORS), Kam Lee (ex - MANTAS, ex - MASSSACRE) and LG Petrov (ex - ENTOMBED) as guest musicians on the album?
“Indeed. Dr. Heathen Scum was a good friend of us back then. I knew THE MENTORS personally already from the nineties. He worked for a big international company back then, so he was flying regularly to Europe. And during one of his visits, we had a jam-session. We even did a full album with him which was never released. We might release this one in the future. During this period, the whole songwriting process for “Smut Kingdom” started. And so we let him sing on one song. “Smut Kingdom” was never totally finished back then. We just had a rough mix. Last year, when we decided to release it and when we were in the mastering process, MASSACRE and ENTOMBED AD played in Vienna, I think. And Schirenc invited them in the studio and they did some backing vocals. That’s how everything happened.”
On the website Metal Archives, you can read that you’re the owner of Totem - a shop in Vienna specialized in Metal, Gothic, merchandise and books - and Cineploit, a record label / distribution. Did you start with that after PUNGENT STENCH split up in 2007?
“No, I run Totem already since the nineties. That store was always my steady income. I also have a sort of office there and coordinated all the activities regarding PUNGENT STENCH from there. I still have that office and I operate from there for all my projects and companies. And one of them is indeed Cineploit through which I release cinematic music. I’ve been running Cineploit for about six years now.”
If you look back on your career with PUNGENT STENCH, what was the best period for you?
"Without a doubt the beginning period. That was really interesting. You are still young, fresh and naive. It’s actually quite bizarre that we came up with own releases quite quickly. Because in the beginning, we could barely play our instruments. We were very amateurish. We recorded our demo “Mucous Secretion” in 1988 mainly to get some recognition in the tapetrading scene. But we quickly progressed as a band, which also gave us more opportunities. “Been Caught Buttering”, which was released in 1991, was a very important record for us. I have really great memories regarding that album and the tours we did for that… our first tour in Australia and our tour with TYPE O NEGATIVE. That was extremely good for us.”
You played your first gig on the 16th of April 1988. That’s almost exactly 30 yerars ago.
“Yeah, that’s even more crazy. Don’t remember me (laughs). That was a small festival with DISHARMONIC ORCHESTRA, XYSTER and two other bands. It was organised by a few guys who really took a big risk. I remember that we went there by train as we didn’t even have a driving licence. It was interesting, but it was so different from the shows you see nowadays. But it was a good experience for us. And an important experience. The best rehearsal for a band is to play live. Back then, it was incredibly difficult to book a club for a live show. We had no connections because there was no scene. There was nothing in Austria. Metal was not recognized at all.”
In the beginning of the nineties, you played live quite regularly with ATROCITY, MASTER, ENTOMBED, DISHARMONIC ORCHESTRA, ABOMINATION and CARCASS. Are you still in contact with these bands?
"No, not really. I met Jeff Walker again a few years ago. And Bill Steer also visited me when he performed with ANGELWITCH in Vienna a few years ago. I’m in touch with some guys on Facebook. But we’re not that close as you might think. I exchange a few lines with Paul Speckmann of MASTER on Facebook a few times a year. But that’s about it. All these bands were really nice guys, but I was never that close to these people. We played shows together and we met at festivals where you had some smalltalk. But that’s’ about it. I remember that we brought MASTER over to Europe. In 1990, we wanted to tour though Europe but we could hardly do that on our own. We had to take somebody with us which we would like to see ourselves. Back then, we were huge fans of MASTER and DEATHSTRIKE. They were a huge musical influence, especially DEATHSTRIKE. All this was just before Speckmann signed with MASTER to Nuclear Blast. I proposed to Nuclear Blast to bring him over. They gave me his phonenumber and I called him up in Chicago. And we arranged everything and flew him over. An then we drove around with Paul for six weeks. Good times (laughs)!”
PUNGENT STENCH has always been a controversial band. The photos of Joel-Peter Witkin which you can see on the artwork of “For God Your Soul...” and “Been Caught Buttering” caused quite a stir at the time. In your lyrics - which often contained a kind of morbid humour - you were talking about bizarre sex, SM and fetishism. Would you say that you were deliberately looking for controversy?
“I always thought we needed a strong image. Something that would make us stand out and that was different from other bands. I've always really hated these typical bandphotos where all the bandmembers pose in a bandshirt. What the fuck? You can’t present yourself like that. In my opinion, you have to have a certain style or a concept. The work of photographers such as Joel-Peter Witkin or Stefan Weber with whom we collaborated later on is certainly explicit. But they are real artists. And I’m a musician. And they perfectly understood where we wanted to go. Their work is challenging and provoking. And if certain people find that offensive, that's their problem. I don’t care about that. PUNGENT STENCH had to have a certain face somehow, also because of our lyrics. All that had to come together."
Have you ever felt misunderstood as a band?
"No, I don’t think so. The only people who misunderstand you are the people who don’t appreciate your work. The people behind the band appreciated what we were doing and thought it was good that we were pushing boundaries. On our EP “Dirty Rhymes...”, there was a cover of an obscure Disco hit and a quite bizarre Techno remix of ‘Blood, Pus And Gastric Juice'. I hate Techno. But we did it because we wanted to surprise and upset people. Take it or leave it, we don’t care. You had to be a bit open-minded to appreciate our stuff. And I think our followers appreciated that.”
PUNGENT STENCH is without a doubt a cultband and still remarkably popular nowadays. What’s the main reason for this do you think?
“We come from the eighties and belonged to the first Death Metal wave. And it's always easier for bands who were there from the beginning. When we started, there was not even a real scene. Nuclear Blast just started and offered us a contract. And then the ball started to roll. Different circumstances brought us to that point. And there was also a certain amount of luck involved. But I think we were also a pretty solid band. We have never been really great musicians. But we tried to be as fast and extreme as possible and really went for it. We were literally in the rehearsal room every day because we didn’t have any jobs. And that's why we were rather quickly able to record something as a band. All these old recordings also show the spirit of those years. You can’t re-do something like that. That’s impossible. You played different. The studios were different. We had an own style and we were also not that serious. And I would say that we were also quite entertaining as a band. I think people still recognize that.”
Is the story of PUNGENT STENCH with these reissues and “Smut Kingdom” now finished for you?
“Yes. I don’t see myself make music with PUNGENT STENCH again. “Smut Kingdom” was recorded 10 years ago, it’s already an old record (laughs). But it was time to release it as we put a lot of effort in it back then. But it’s over for me. We already had a reunion in 2001. And I’m a different person now. I have different interests and different views nowadays. Sure, I could do it, but I don’t want to make music only for the money. That was never the case. We always wanted to make a standpoint and an artistic statement. And to have some fun as well and see new places. I don’t have any connection with the Metal scene anymore. I hate festivals, even as a visitor. We have played at festivals like Wacken and With Full Force with PUNGENT STENCH. And I really didn’t like that. I've always preferred small clubs. Playing for around 150 to 200 people... that was fun (laughs).”
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