Mantar Discuss Being Labeled a Metal Band, Their Health Setbacks & Latest Album

Photo: Matthis Van DerMeulen

The epic Heavy Metal Parking Lot’s most memorable orator, the diminutive Zebra patterned pleather adorned guy declared “Heavy metal rules. All that punk shit sucks. It doesn’t belong in this world. It belongs on fuckin’ Mars, man.” His drunken rambling continued as he pissed on the revered Dicks; declaring they could, “Go to Hell." So, we have his barometer of musical taste handy. And in agreement from the opposing side, many hardcore kids stood defiant in accepting what the second half of the '80s would bring, crossover. Bands like D.R.I. and Corrosion of Conformity, and even NYHC Godfathers, Agnostic Front, began to embrace a wide spectrum of aggressive, subculture music.

Hanno Klänhardt, vocalist/guitarist of Mantar, commences the Zoom meeting, shirtless in Florida’s humidity and amusing; stating, “I love the punk shit. I’m not even into extreme metal.” Peculiar for one of metal’s most unique and defiant voices. Hannos and partner/drummer, Erinc Sakarya, still living in Germany, can now boast that they are signed to metal’s longest running independent label; birthplace of Metallica, home of Cannibal Corpse, GWAR, Slayer, Vader, Hirax, Sacred Reich, etc.: Metal Blade.

Mantar’s latest album, Pain is Forever and This Is the End, rides the heels of the bands surprising 2020 covers EP, Grungetown Hooligans II. There, Mantar covered bands such as The Jesus Lizard, L7, Sonic Youth, Mudhoney, and other noisy yet not-really-metal bands. But Mantar proves this was a exorcising exercise and not an inclination of future original songs’ sonic approach. Pain is Forever and This Is the End is not a change in sound, but an adjusted approach in songwriting.

Hanno admits, “Neither me nor Erinc have ever been much of metalheads. Don’t get me wrong, we grew up on metal. But the driving force behind me making music is this whole punk thing since I was a kid. We have always been seen as a metal act because we were signed to Nuclear Blast and now Metal Blade. But I did not want to make another record that was able to hide between ‘extreme metal record’ or here is a new ‘doom/sludge’ record or black death or whatever you want to name it.

"To be frank, I like a lot of metal music but I never seen myself or the band as metal. I grew up on classic rock. Erinc comes from ‘90s noise rock or grunge, however you want to label it. The hardest currency in music is a good song, like a catchy tune. Yeah, make it heavy as shit; but, catchy."

The vocalist/guitarist continues: "I like simple songwriting. Or let me say, I like effective song writing. I never been interested in eight minute prog rock or ‘black metal soundscape post rock’. I respect all that, but it just ain’t my jam.” 

Photo: Matthis Van DerMeulen

With this in mind, listening to Pain is Forever and This Is the End makes more sense. The mold has not been broken, but stretched out and reformed. The sound is still visceral. Feral vocals are delivered by Hanno spewing chants such as “There’s no remorse for what they’ve done” followed by a guttural yell on “Walking Corpse”. Guitars approach riffs with brevity and sometimes an angular or atonal sound.

The production feels raw. Momentum carries through each track, all sticking within 30 seconds of four minutes on either side. But the album can proudly praise Hanno for adding variety and gripping sections within each song. The totality of the record feels as one sweaty, ravaging set. Mantar feel as if they stuck to a mission statement.

“I tried to be more on point with the songwriting. The most important thing for me was that people do not classify the new Mantar record as an ‘extreme metal record’. It sounds like an excuse. You don’t need to have songs, it’s more like, ‘Hey. Be loud. Be always loud. Play double bass. Play blast beats. Do this and do that.’

“I think the problem with a lot of extreme metal records is that they don’t stick. I tried to change that. Especially for Mantar. We always had some catchy songs. I tried to do the best I could. I don’t think we changed our sound. What I don’t want to do is read the reviews and read ‘When Mantar is written on (the cover), this is what you get’ or ‘a classic Mantar record’. That may be satisfying for some people and boring for others, including myself. (It’s about) taking the risk where some people may say ‘oh, I don’t fuck with the new stuff’, but in the end, it is most important that I have fun.”

Pain is Forever and This Is the End remains true to the Mantar ethos. And fans will still be engulfed in waves of dirty, drilling riffs. The opening of “Horder” could be placed on any album classified as blackened death metal. While “Grim Reaping” has a minimalistic approach to the verses, the drums and single note guitars absolutely stomp as hard as any metal song. And they the breaks grasp onto atmospheric, droning riffage as any black metal would. The formula has remained the same, just filtered with nuances and slightly different approaches to structure.

“I 100% agree. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we got super experimental. I think we figured out even more what our strengths are and what other bands are better in. Why would I start trying to do things that I know other bands have mastered so much better than I could. We didn’t change much. We could play other music if we wanted to do. It’s the same but I think the songs are a little better.”

Mantar has been rolling since their official debut on Svart in 2014, Death By Burning. Picked up by Nuclear Blast, 2016’s Ode to the Flame, continued their dominating treachery as a commanding and unique duo. Reviewers accolades and a vicious live show kept the band in high regards. Returning with Modern Art of Setting Ablaze in 2018, again on Nuclear Blast, the band was lauded with exceptional reviews by critics and continued adoration.

But the pandemic crushed the bi-annually release schedule. And switching labels can sometimes be daunting. But Hanno knows in 2022 that there are aspects to a band besides moving units or label pressures to sell x amount. 

“I am very confident that this record turned out very good. I’m sure all people who bought the first three records arevalso going to buy this one. I’m not worried about now. I’m worried about the next one, especially if people think ‘oh this one sucks’. You know how in the record industry, (they say), ‘you don’t worry about your current record. You worry about your next record if your current one is not good.’”

Mantar’s influences radiate here, absorbing the spirit and an amalgamated renditions of classic punk and hardcore to noise bands like Unsane and early Helmet and the AmRep vibe to TAD and Melvins and doom and a little black 'n' roll. And while Hanno confirms writing “catchy” songs, the album is not soft or radio accessible. The vocals stayed the same; coarse and venomous. They are not polished. There are not any clean vocals. This is a loathsome voice of indignation.

“I’m with you there. I feel the same. I never understood bands that are super heavy but then hold it back with the vocals. It’s like in a fistfight. You ain’t going to fucking talk gently in a fistfight. You’re going to yell while you are fucking punching someone. That’s how I always felt about how we play. We go full in.

“Take the hook from ‘Hang ‘Em Low (so the rats can get ‘em)’. That riff. You could put it in a KISS song. There is nothing extreme metal about it. It becomes intense because we play it intense. In the long run, these riffs have more value, I think. Than just trying to be super evil.”

Mantar’s execution takes the foundation and runs different directions. It becomes metal because of people relating to the aggression. Mantar hit this on the head when they released 2019’s Grungetown Hooligans Vol II. As mentioned, the covers were '90s alt-rock/grunge instead of a predictable Slayer or Kreator cover. Fans were surprised. And that was completely intentional.

“I don’t listen to Slayer much. I don’t have one Kreator record at home. But I do have L7 records and Mazzy Star records and Sonic Youth Records and The Jesus Lizard records. We did the covers album to entertain ourselves. We needed something fun.” The duo was feeling pummeled with routine and monotony from, “constantly touring and recording. We wanted to do something that doesn’t take much work. That was not stressful. There were no expectations from any side.

“Of course. We took the chance to show fans what made us make music in the first place. That’s what we used to listen to when we were young.”

An audience connecting the trajectory from that EP to Pain is Forever and This Is the End becomes a more direct line.

Hanno unveils, “The songwriting of this record has a lot to do with the songs we chose to cover. I don’t want to say ‘rock orientated’ but they’re very catchy, very on point. They skip all the bullshit and have strong repetitive melodies. I think that had a of influence on the songwriting of the new record.”

As far as recording Pain is Forever and This Is the End, that begins to lead one down a dark and sullen trail. Hanno in no manner looks back at the recording with any selected memories. There is nothing fond in his words or nostalgic in his voice. 

He begins with a frank reduction. “It was a total shit show. Nothing worked out. It was completely tedious. It was very exhausting.”

Elaborating, Hanno unleashes a litany of outside circumstances which he internalized to his own detriment, never mind the band or the record. “I let my head fuck with myself. You wake up in the morning and you write a song and record it. You think you are on top of the world. And the next day, you listen to it and think, ‘this is all shit.’ I’m honest here. It did work out very well. But there were times when we both thought we lost it.”

While Hanno does reveal that during this process he spent a lot of time in the hospital, he insists, “it was nothing too drastic.” Clearly he is downplaying his injuries.

“Since 2002, we are a punk band; if you want to put it like that. Therefore, we never make long term plans. When we did Death by Burning, it was supposed to come out as a demo cassette. No one knew it would be the first debut album. We had no plan to make another record. We have no plans to make another record. And that’s what we say every time, but it’s true.

"By the end of 2020, I called up Erinc and asked, ‘do you think we should make another record?’ Because I wish that more bands would ask themselves, in a critical way, ‘Does anyone need that? Can we do better? Can we add something to our legacy?’ Most bands put out more stuff and think it is going to be a sure shot. And in most cases, it ain’t.”

Introspective, Hanno was leaning on history for guidance. And not his band’s history, but more existential instances. “I’m a huge fan – like, in the '70s, all those great British punk bands, they made one album and split up. That’s fucking beautiful. Like a Viking. When you’re 30-plus, go in the forest and hang yourself. If you can’t fight no more, go up to Valhalla. It’s fine, man. But, don’t waste my time.”

But Erinc held on to the belief that Mantar could add to their canon with substance and purpose. Hanno then flew back to Germany planning to “bring my best riffs”. But life would prove treacherous and merciless. October 2020, the second day of Hanno’s return, was actually Erinc’s wedding. Hanno kneels to snap a picture and tears his meniscus. He sums it up. “Hospital. Surgery. No health insurance.”

So, broke and unable to rehearse, a wounded – inside and out – Hanno returned to Florida with the urgent need for physical therapy. “Little hiccup,” he states. Three months later, He returned to Germany. Ready to rehearse and commit to what October should have yielded. Hanno sternly lists the next setback. “Christmas Eve. In the supermarket. I slip and tear my ACL in the same knee.”

In a somber tone still wrought with disbelief, Hanno reduces his knee to a single word. “Annihilated. Weird angle. Again, no health insurance. Because who does that to themselves twice? Me.”

He has surgery again. Hanno’s tenacity surfaced and the two build a bed in their rehearsal space to be able to play together. But after two weeks, the pain proved impregnable. “It was devastating. It started to fuck with our heads. It truly started to feel like the universe was against us.”

Deteriorating confidence, feeling “I’m not strong enough”, Hanno, again returned to Florida. “We didn’t talk for six weeks. Not because we hated each other, but because we were so hurt. And both flirted with the idea of giving up.”

Photo: Matthis Van DerMeulen

After suffering through an emotional ordeal, Hanno was flattened by low confidence. Then, the rebel within Hanno awoken. He emailed Erinc. And Hanno expands in his defiant tone. “No one in the world determines when our end is except us. If we quit, we quit on our terms. And I’m cool with it. I made my peace with it. I was willing to let this go, but we make the decision. No broken knee, or money problems, or no fucking COVID. It’s going to be us.”

The resolution was plain and obvious. “I want to fight this,” remembers Hanno. He then eschewed the negativity and channeled his perseverance. “I started demoing songs at home. For the first time ever, I was writing songs alone.” Still not able to travel, he sent digital files to Erinc in Germany. He told Erinc to record the drums. The duo would record drums based on the demos over the phone or Skype. 

“And that’s what you hear. It was no fun. During the recording, the pain was still there. The doubt was omnipresent. [..] It really felt like we were fighting the Universe.”
This segues seamlessly into the album’s opener, as Hanno quickly references “Egoisto." The first lyrics of the song and hence the album, are  “I live in a house made of broken bones, on every wall hangs a cross.”

Simply put, that reflects how Hanno felt when writing Pain is Forever and This Is the End. He explains with a metaphor. “Writing an album is like building a house. The problem, though, is that you build it from within. And after a few weeks, there is nothing else but walls that you see. You are surrounded by walls. No matter where you go, you see the same wall. You bounce off the walls.

“When you build a house from the outside, you can see it from a different angle, a different perspective. Step away. Come back. But I built my own fucking dungeon, my own jail. The ‘broken bones’, of course, refers to my being in a lot of pain and having money problems while I was recording this. I couldn’t walk for so long. I was on crutches the whole time. And ‘on every wall hangs a cross’; the cross symbolizes your own morals.

"Everywhere you look, you gotta prove the world wrong. You promised yourself.” A breath is taken with a subtle, reluctant shift from the tension in his voice. “Yeah, it wasn’t fun. I think the Universe made that to test us. It’s very philosophical here. And obviously we have what it takes. I think it was worth it because the album turned out great. But I would be lying if I said I enjoyed any of it. I hated every second of it. Real talk.”

Hanno ends this sympathetic tale of a laborious recording with a final triumphant declaration. “It’s fine. We won. Seeing that piece of work in my hand - I’m a vegetarian - but it feels like shooting a deer and mounting in on the wall. I’m the king of the jungle here.”

Those tribulations and obstacles manifest in a gritty, enraged sound for Pain is Forever and This Is the End. The aggression and fortitude is relayed with vicious riffs and pounding rhythms. The two calling on various influences and less metal than an audience would expect shows up immediately. The second track, “Hang ‘Em Low,” has a riff in the chorus that could be an early '80s/LA scene/hard rock or NWOBHM riff. But it is smuggled in there. And other parts of the song are certainly doom with some black metal nuances and devilish vocals. “Of Frost and Decay” evokes a title of a black metal album; and so do Hanno’s vocals delivered over a slow churning, fevered riff.

“Odysseus” (aka, Ulysses. Which the reason for this title should be self-explanatory at this point) starts slow with a lapping rhythm. The hypnotic sonic waves lull while Hanno’s growls portray a defeated man simply wanting rest. Yet, the final minute of this song, and the album, induce a beefier riff teasing a black metal desperation.  

The band’s prior studio album, 2018’s The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze, was adorned with a Nazi plaque on its cover. The plaque still sits in the middle of a square in Bremen, Germany. “The bronze sculpture called Der Lichbringer (The Lightbringer), was designed by Bernhard Hoetger. It was designed with an intention to glorify the victory of The Third Reich over the powers of darkness in 1936.

"Hitler, however, dismissed the piece, labelling it racist and a divergent view of culture. Ludwig Roselius, the man who supervised the project, was thus rejected twice into the National Socialism Party because Hitler expressively listed his project as an example of degenerate art. To put it simply, one of the evillest men in the world found this artwork to be too controversial."

Before you even hear a note, you know that album will be soaked in political criticisms and an abhorrence of current society’s hypocrisy. Atmosphere and voracity are spewed relentlessly here, equally as The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze. But, to the point, Pain is Forever and This Is the End, lyrically, is considerably more personal. While still ripe with descriptive disdain, this trip around, Hanno is exploring his place within the world. 

Hanno confirms, “It’s definitely more personal, maybe for the first time ever. I don’t want to make this record about COVID or shit like that. It’s not about that. These musicians,” he says whimsically and mockingly, “’oh my suffering because I couldn’t perform on stage.’” Hanno interrupts himself bluntly with a sharp, “Fuck all that! I enjoy not being on stage. I needed a break.”

Then, the Mantar vocalist truly divulges the impetus for his lyrics on this album, as he views modern society with a caustic eyes. “I find it interesting. We live in a time where people demand simple answers to very complex questions. All the conspiracy theories. All this bullshit. People want to be a part of something. People want to find their place in the world. They want to be important. They want to mean something. 

“It’s a grotesque appreciation of stupidity. I couldn’t believe what people were saying regarding politics and also religion. All these conspiracies about COVID. It feels like a pseudo-New Age movement that you had seen in the ‘60s. They want to be a part of an elite wisdom, but they don’t want to get their hands dirty. They want to get that ‘elite wisdom’ through facebook and twitter and whatever, where there is no real truth out there. Everyone can put their opinion out there these days, which is fine. But no one is going to test you on what you say.

"You don’t have to prove anything. You can even be the President of the United States knowing that you are actively lying. And the whole world is knowing that you are actively lying. And I don’t want to make this about politics – because I don’t give a shit. But, what I find interesting is that you can come through with that; that that is going to work. That no one cares anymore what is truth and what is not.

“People who just repeat lies, who tell lies, even though they know it’s a lie, follow weird-ass conspiracy theories. I feel that the motivation for that is to be heard, but not tested. ‘The Earth is flat.’ ‘Alex Jones is right.’ ‘The water is making the frogs gay.’ And that’s why Trump was so successful. Because people who had never been heard before, he gave them a voice. And I don’t even blame them. I understand the motivation. It’s just sad.”

Hanno continues and elaborates. As a now Floridian and concurrently a German, he recognizes this mentality rising in Europe as it has been surfacing boldly. The Right-Wing sentiments and aggressions have risen in France, Poland, UK, Greece, Italy, etc. He notes the impetus. “It’s so easy to blame these people, blame those people. Pointing a finger keeps people at a distance.”

Hanno has deep knowledge and opinions, but assures, “We’re not a political band. There is no judgement. I don’t offer a solution or present a better perspective, I just report. And that is a never-ending inspiration for lyrics. You just have to turn on the TV or open the newspaper. And I am not even surprised because I don’t have high hopes for mankind.”

The speakers are mired and burdened as the notes and riffs of “Orbital Pus” and “Piss Ritual” are conveyed. The scathing vocals are searing to the ear. The vacuous sounds drain and clench the listener. The riff can be catchy but the impact is that of doom or black metal. Which is fitting. Because Hanno’s disgust, first relayed by the imagery in the title of piss and pus, is supplemented by derisive lyrics.

Hanno continues, “Instead of humanity reaching a new level of spirituality, exactly the opposite is happening. And everything is evolving backwards. It’s just so sad. That is what the new record is about.” 

He mentions the track “New Age Pagan” being about these ideas. The song is followed by the spectacular “Horder”. “Horder” boasts the lyrics:
“Get up, get down, get born again”

This chant paints a routine of a repeated mantra. The simplicity iterates the desperate followers succumbing to the façade of the easy route to an elevated existence.

“Doesn’t matter if it’s Christianity, any sort of cult, religion, or politics. (People) get this lusting to be reborn, to get this knowledge, this spirit. Just testify. You don’t have to understand. You don’t have to ask questions. Just say, ‘I’m part of it,’ and you’re going to be part of it. And that’s enough now for people. They don’t even want to know shit. They just want to be able to say, ‘I’m part of something.’ And, honestly, I don’t even blame them. Everyone struggles (to define) their place in the Universe. Everybody would like to be important. They want to matter. And I understand that. That is probably a driving human force behind existence.

“But this, unfortunately, leads to very scary developments like religion and politics. And, again, I don’t judge. I just report. But looking at people, my hopes are relatively slim. I want to make it perfectly clear. I am not a misanthropic person. I love you. I love my wife. I love my friends. I love my neighbor. I love random people I have never met before. You or me, we may be a relatively intelligent person. But add three or four, we already become a hysterical mess. And that’s never going to change. I don’t believe it.” 

Collecting his thoughts, he is evidently feeling swamped by discouraging evidence plastered on all of these screens and devices daily. “That is basically what the lyrics are about. People seem to hope for a New Age. History is repeating. But what happened to the ‘60s? People became bored-ass rich hippies. Like the teachers! I had a problem with the teachers that I had in school. Because they were so left wing. They were so revolutionary. In the late ‘60s, they went to so many demonstrations and they changed the world. But, now they are fucking rich. And that’s great. Having money is not the problem. Not having money is the problem - to make that perfectly clear.

Nothing wrong with being rich.” But his example shines. They aspired to the same domestic, trite goals their parents had. Money changed people and they ended up coveting all the things against which they were rebelling. “Don’t get me started,” Hanno warns. The sentiment lingers in a soft chuckle. The discussion harkens the classic song by Boston’s Tree, 1994’s “Negative Hippie” which touts:

“Too many hippies from the sixties/Turned into yuppies in the eighties/ greediest hypocrites of all time”

Pain is Forever and This Is the End is an album forged in flames fed by tumult and adversity. Mantar’s rage and misanthropy fervent spite for homogeny fuel a stunning and enthralling 41 minutes. Even if the members are saying it was an intentional “non-metal” album, any metalhead should revel in this brutal cynicism. The vocals, riffs, and drums all channel sections of black metal, doom, sludge, post-metal, noise rock and hardcore punk. But most importantly is this punishing collection of tracks is the spirit. Mantar continue to challenge the status quo and even their own subculture. 


Pain is Forever and This Is the End is available now via Metal Blade Records.


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