I was quite surprised when I found out that the German two piece MANTAR is actually from my hometown Bremen, because the extreme music scene here isn’t really what I would call "healthy"… But MANTAR is far more than just a local hopeful. These guys are VERY HEAVY and VERY INTENSE and best off all: they are UNIQUE! So it doesn’t really matter if you’re listening to Death, Black or Thrash Metal, if you’re a fan of Punk, Doom Metal, Stoner or Sludge, because MANTAR won’t fit into any of those categories anyway, yet they might appeal to all of you nevertheless. I had the opportunity to check them out live recently and they even managed to top the rawness and intensity of their debut album "Death By Burning" pretty easily just by playing 3 songs of it! So, a more in-depth MANTAR feature had to be done. Luckily guitarist / vocalist Hanno was willing to spend some time on our questions and here’s the result of it…
Howdy folks, hope you’re doing fine and you’re in the right mood to answer some questions for our unholy rag?!
"Sure thing. All good in camp MANTAR."
Before we get into detail, I’d like to find out a little bit more about your actual home base… When it comes to MANTAR you’re mentioning the two German cities Hamburg and Bremen. So, which city do you actually call your home and how are you connected to the other one?
"Both of us have been born and raised in Bremen. We just moved to Hamburg some years ago for different reasons. But MANTAR remains to be a Bremen band. This is our hometown and means a lot to us. We have a very comfortable rehearsal situation in Hamburg, have our own studio and work here on a daily basis. Nevertheless it might be just a question of time till we will move back. Time will tell. Hamburg or its scene didn’t have much impact on us. No hard feelings, but we stayed away from any certain "scene" more or less our whole lives. Growing up in Bremen and spending the weekends in the "Wehrschloss" (RIP) seeing great bands from all over the world had much more impact on us than anything else. The 90s were a very intense time for great music made in Bremen."
Your line-up only consists of two members: Erinc (Sakarya) on drums / vocals and yourself, Hanno (Klänhardt) on vocals / guitars and it seems that MANTAR was your first serious band, wasn’t it…? So, how did you two hook up with each other then? Have you been friends already before your started to play music?
"Well, Erinc played in some bands before but never has been on tour and didn’t put out any records apart from demos or whatever. But he plays in bands for more than 20 years now. So do I. I actually did some records with other bands before and have been touring quite a lot. That’s how we met. As a matter of fact in the already mentioned "Wehrschloss" at the legendary "Off Festival" when I was playing with my teenage Punk band and he saw us back in 1997. We sure sucked but got friends. He is a little older and took me and my friends to shows and introduced us to a lot of new music. Due to that I was able to skip a lot of cheesy bullshit so to speak. For some reason we just made it these days to form a band."
Tell us a little bit more about your musical background… what have done before you started MANTAR? Did you play any cover songs in your early days or maybe even still today?
"I never played any covers. Erinc sure did, haha. I played in some bands before. So did Erinc. As MANTAR we never played any covers. The band still is brand new, we just didn’t have the time to work on covers while being busy creating own material."
Was it the lack of finding like-minded additional members or what was the reason for you to work as a two-piece band only?
"First no one wanted to join. Then we figured out that it works quite well with just the two of us. That’s why we never looked any further. We don’t want any third "member" or "musician" anyhow. Chances are too high that an additional member that doesn’t share the same kind of musical "vision" might weaken our special energy."
Who came up with the band’s name and what does it represent to you?
"As Erinc has Turkish roots we looked for a Turkish name. Means something like mushroom as far as I am informed. We wanted something very simple and basic. MANTAR sounds heavy and kinda brutal. Fits good for a band with the same characteristics. But nevertheless names still mean shit. Who cares?!"
The band’s simplistic logo pretty much looks like a logo of a Black or Death Metal band, but unlike almost everyone else you haven’t turned the incorporated cross upside down… Does this have any religious background? What kind of topics do you write about in your lyrics?
"I think inverted crosses are cheesy. Sorry. Just lame to the bone. Who do you wanna scare with that?! First of all it’s the letter "T" and not a cross. So this "cross" neither isn’t turned in any direction nor does mean anything. In general the lyrics are pretty much nature related. The urge of man for the final battle. The return to nature. And for sure the general sickness of mankind. I don’t judge though, I just tell. We don’t have any certain message. I don’t care what people think. I don’t want them to act according to my lyrics. Our only message is the power of the music."
I don’t know why, but when I saw the logo for the very first time, I immediately had the "Death By Metal" demo from DEATH in mind… same goes for the typo on the album… pure coincidence or was that done on purpose?
"Pure coincidence. Great band though."
Considering the fact that there’s already zillions of extreme bands out there nowadays, I was pretty surprised that you still managed to come up with a pretty unique sound on your own. So, where do you draw your main musical influences from? I suppose you’re pretty open-minded when it comes to extreme music styles, aren’t you?
"As a matter of fact, yes. We do not come from a certain music scene. Even though we have a very do it yourself background. I sure do have pretty obvious Punk roots as well. For that reason we don’t feel any urge to satisfy any certain scene or something. We play heavy music. As intense as possible. That’s the only agenda. I really do like Black Metal, been musically socialized with early Thrash but still would say that Punk actually made me playing music myself. But honestly, I don’t care how people look like or what they like to listen to next to MANTAR."
Do you consider MANTAR a band that is connected to the Metal genre somehow?
"Well, we have a lot of fans that are obviously Metalheads. I really appreciate that. They are very loyal and dedicated. And we got a lot of coverage from Metal magazines all over the world. So, if MANTAR is a "Metal" band? No. Are we heavily connected to this music- and lifestyle? Yes. I think people just like two facts: that we play pretty hard and that we actually DO NOT care at all about the question if we are a Metal band or not. Might be refreshing in a world full of posers."
The first official musical sign of life from MANTAR was a vinyl 7" EP that featured the 2 tracks ‘Spit’ and ‘White Nights’… Tell us a little bit more about that, like how many copies have been pressed of it, if you managed to get rid of them pretty easily and when and where you recorded the songs…
"We recorded the songs with a good friend in our rehearsal room which is basically a studio. So, that was very easy and basic. The very first press was only a 100. Than we did another 222 with another artwork. These records are sold out long time ago. The artwork was handmade and quite underground bounded. I love that."
In 2014 you released another 2 song vinyl 7" EP, entitled "The Berserker’s Path", which features the title track and ‘Astral Kannibal’… All EP songs also appear on your debut full length "Death By Burning", which was released via Finnish Svart Records a couple of months before the EP. So, is there any difference in the recordings of the EP songs and the album material? Why did you still release this EP when people could already buy the album with those songs on it?
"No difference. We just wanted to have another cool 7 inch in a cool color and cool artwork. It’s in green wax. Limited to 333 and more or less sold out as well. I don’t get it why a "single" actually always have to feature non-album tracks. It’s made as a teaser. For people that don’t wanna get the whole record for different reasons. Or just like the actual product."
From what I’ve seen, there’s also a couple of MANTAR "rarities" circulating (colored vinyls, tapes etc.)… tell us a bit more about those items…
"Yeah, people kinda goin’ crazy about that stuff these days. Weird. As both of us ain’t collectors at all. The first 7 inches have been mentioned already. Than we made our first tape edition in a very cool packaging which was put out by Breath Plastic Records in the Netherlands. Limited to a hundred. Sold out over night and got "best selling Metal tape" on bandcamp. Then we did a special Roadburn Edition, limited to 50. Very cool. Came in a metal box with plenty of gimmicks. Sold out as well. There was an American tape edition, too. Came via Tritroid Records from the US, sold out. We will come up with something pretty cool soon. Regarding the vinyl, it came in three different colors. Black (standard), white (500 sold out) and bronze (300 sold out). People like these special item. It’s fun to think about new stuff and create it."
How did you actually get together with Svart Records? Did you send your debut EP to a couple of labels and Svart Records just happened to be one of them, or did they see you play live somehow, somewhere and were really impressed by your show?
"No, the old school way. I’ve sent ’em the demo. Two days later, they answered and said: "let’s go". We actually got some more interest from much bigger labels but their deals sucked big time so I am glad we went with the smallest but coolest label. Svart Records is great. One of the coolest labels worldwide these days as far I can tell."
Talking of live shows: how many gigs have you already played since the band’s origin and how has the response been on them so far? Are people confused to see a 2-piece act on stage every now and then, or is it difficult for you sometimes to win over crowds because of that?
"Not that much. We actually just started playing live as the band is very new. Maybe 35 shows. I guess we will have played about 75 by the end of the year, which is quite a lot in the first year of live activities in general. We will tour 15 countries incl. the US. We seriously didn’t see that coming. No problems with being a two piece. People actually like that. We can mess with any 5 piece easily. If you know your gear you can raise some serious hell."
When this interview will be published, you already have played a show at the local music festival "Breminale"… how did you get the chance to play there and do you really think an extreme band like MANTAR benefits from such an event in any way?
"Well, first of all we just got invited and a lot of people showed up to see the band. So, I think it’s very cool. Especially as the Breminale is a classic event. Always wanted to play there. Unfortunately the weather fucked up and we only have been able to play 3 songs. But we will play there next year again. Plus we will play a free show for the people of Bremen as a lot of them showed up to see the band. September 05, 2014 – Lagerhaus Bremen."
Tell us a little bit about the origin of your debut full length "Death By Burning" and its pretty unusual cover artwork… From what I’ve read so far it seems to collect quite a few very good reviews, doesn’t it?
"The feedback we received was stunning. So much love from all over the world. We did not expect that. That painting is called "The Crown" from a great artist called Aron Wiesenfeld. I happened to find it and we both decided that it has to be our albumcover. I think it describes our music better than we ever could. That hopelessness in the face of the girl with the burning crown… epic. "Death By Burning" is an expression that can express much more than just getting burned alive on the stake. We asked Aron about using "The Crown" as our cover and he kindly agreed. So it’s an honour for us to have such a wonderful piece of art to represent our music. He sure is an incredible artist."
You also already did a couple of videos which can be found on your website… tell us a bit more about them and how you got the opportunity to record them…
"They have been done by close friends of ours. Pretty DIY as well. Check out Wayne Horse. Great artist and one of my oldest and best friends. From Bremen as well. Sure thing."
Ok, I guess we should’ve covered the most important topics now, so I’ll leave the closing words to you. Thanks for the interview and all the best!
"Thanks for your interest in MANTAR. Thanks to everybody who shows up at our shows and buys our records and shirts. We don’t take this for granted. Spread the word. All the best. Hanno."
Interview: Frank Stöver
Live pics: Frank Stöver, Tina Ehmke