Fire. It’s hard not to stop and be humbled by this lethal, all-consuming element. A violent and unpredictable spark that ignited into being existence as we know it, fuels and sustains life and, by the very same token, can savagely obliterate whole ecosystems and empires in the blink of an eye. Once it gets going, nothing can rival, halt or hope to defeat it. And from blistering, darkly abrasive grooves that audibly crackle with adrenaline to a fiercely relentless work ethic and hunger for success, there’s no doubt that two-man German wrecking crew Mantar have expertly mastered ‘The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze’.
“We’re a very passionate band, we make no compromises and just want to set everything alight. I know that sounds like whole a lot of clichés, but this rage, this fury is my number one motor and motivation of why I’m doing all of this,” comments Mantar frontman Hanno Klänhard on the staggering levels of passion and gritty determination that fuel the Germans’ crushing, delectably groove-laden craft. And while it’s easy to dismiss such glowing superlatives as the stuff of empty, money-spinning promotional rhetoric, the band’s recent, rather problematic stint at Bloodstock Open Air richly illustrates the unmistakable sincerity and conviction with which these words are passionately spoken. Despite being faced with a variety of daunting issues numbering damaged equipment and technical hiccups, the duo’s blistering performance on that ill-fated day showed precious little evidence of these potentially disastrous complications. Indeed, these added frustrations seem to have only further empowered the pair in pulling off the very best performance possible under the circumstances.
“That was a nightmare scenario for us,” Hann reveals. “We had a lot of technical problems and it’s always weird when you do these fly-in shows because you just never know what you’re going to get on the day. Some of my shit broke on the plane so we were super-frustrated, but in hindsight I think people liked that because they told us we seemed really pissed off and played extra heavy, so that might very well be a good thing. We heard a lot of positive things about the Bloodstock show. But for us personally, I was so pissed and so angry, I just wanted to go straight home afterwards and that what was exactly what I did.”
Indeed, it’s this very same determination and uncompromising commitment to their craft that’s seen the two-piece rack up a grand total of three studio albums, one live record and an EP, all within the relentlessly industrious space of a mere five years. But while the bulk of the band’s activity may have taken place in relatively recent years, the earliest origins of Mantar can be traced back as far as 1997, when a then-teenaged Hanno’s first encounter with co-founder Erinç Sakarya at a Bremen-based squat venue set in motion the beginnings of a truly unique musical partnership. Then a fanatical follower of the city’s once-thriving underground punk scene, Hanno’s musical knowledge and tastes rapidly began to expand under the inspiring influence of his significantly older newfound friend. Having subsequently toyed with the idea of forming a band for many years, but finding themselves lacking both the time and interested parties required to do so, the year 2013 finally saw the pair fully commit themselves to making this long dreamed-about ambition a reality.
Of this pivotal, life-changing moment, the frontman recalls, “We finally had the time and the possibilities to found a band together. We even started thinking about a more traditional line-up, but no one wanted to join so just the two of us started playing, just trying things out and immediately realised, hey, actually we don’t need a lot of people to raise some serious hell and cause some serious destruction here so we just capped it as being a two-piece. And finally being super-happy that we made it, feeling very inspired off the back of that, we began playing together in a band because we always really liked each other as musicians and pretty much soon we realised, hey, we’re not like 18 anymore, we’re both plus 30. Either we’re gonna do this thing or we don’t, so we just agreed to put a lot of effort into this band. The previous interviewer from Italy just asked me earlier why we had so much success in such a very short amount of time, if our music is that good. And I said ‘Yes, maybe. We play good music that people like, but at least 50 per cent of that is just crazy work ethics.’ I just honestly don’t know of any other band in my surroundings, in my group of friends who practised as much and worked as hard and put every waking moment into the band. We both lost our jobs, I lost my apartment due to the band because we were constantly touring, but I’m glad that we were willing to make a lot of sacrifices in order to make this thing work.”
Finding themselves finally free to devote their every waking moment to this thrilling and all-consuming new venture, it wasn’t long before the pair’s crushing, darkly energised signature sound rapidly began to take shape in the months that followed. Unleashed just a year later, the gargantuan, ink-black grooves and bristling, punk-tinged energies of debut album ‘Death by Burning’ garnered no small amount of glowing praise and approval on its release back in 2014. With its dusky multitude of distortion-drenched, frostbitten and poundingly anthemic parts displaying an uncommonly fluid compositional approach, the duo were quick to establish a sound quite unlike anything the genre had ever witnessed to date. Underlined by an audible and refreshing indifference to the stylistic conventions that dictate this oftentimes frustratingly restrictive and elitist genre, Mantar would be governed by one sole, blissfully primitive principle alone.
“As hard and heavy as possible,” Hanno clarifies. “We both really enjoyed the rage and the sonic violence, but no, we did not have a certain style in mind. Nowadays we have a great metal following but we never started out trying to be a metal band because we didn’t know too much about metal, especially Erinç. Like, around the time we started, he’d never before in his life even heard a black metal song. He just didn’t give a fuck and neither did I. We just wanted to play heavy but not necessarily be in a heavy metal band. My own musical background is way more punk and classic rock-orientated on stuff like AC/DC, Thin Lizzy, Motorhead. That’s a way bigger influence for me than any metal bands whatsoever, so we just tried to keep that very riff-orientated and very groovy style of music. We never tried to, for example, copy Bolthrower; we never tried to copy Entombed. I never would succeed in doing that kind of thing because there’s always a way better original. I’ve also never been interested in making a really good death metal album or a good black metal record. I always just wanted to make a good Mantar record.”
But while such savage, stirringly primal energies continue to figure prominently in Mantar’s current sound circa 2018, the painstaking making of the band’s third full-length brought with it the pressing need to progress into increasingly sophisticated sonic territories. With Hanno having recently relocated to Florida and Erinç still residing in Germany, this fundamental shift in compositional set-up saw the frontman single-handedly manage every aspect of the songwriting process in what proved to be an altogether more carefully planned and premeditated step on from 2016’s ‘Ode To The Flame.’
Of this significant shift and evolution in the creative dynamics of the band, he observes, “The whole process has changed a lot. It’s like, you put out your first record ‘Death by Burning’ and everybody likes it because you’re new and you’re naive and you’re primitive, and in order to keep the attention you put out another record. Then people are like ‘Oh man, have you heard of Mantar? They’re really good” and you kind of continue to concentrate on the first record, just trying to make it better. But by the third record, it was very obvious that we had to not exactly reinvent the band, but that we couldn’t copy ourselves anymore so therefore it was very much needed to put more effort into the songwriting and try just to be the best band we can and put more effort in the artwork and the lyrics. By the third album I was no longer interested in hearing ‘Hey, have you heard of these guys? This blackened doom, sludge, punk, rock ’n’ roll band or whatever bullshit label people try to apply to us. It doesn’t mean shit to me. It was very important for me that the third record turned out to be a Mantar record, that we establish and define our own unique style out there and people are immediately going to recognise that hey, this is Mantar. I think, within the first few seconds of ‘Age of the Absurd’, you immediately realise this is Mantar. That was my mission.”
With its pummelling, insanely paced stints of aggression, sinewy grooves and electrifying hooks, few tracks so perfectly embody the duo’s signature blend of blistering aggression and infectious groove more perfectly than this gloriously energised opener. But from ‘Seek + Forget’s’ Motorhead-esque repertoire of barrelling, reverb-laden riffs and caustic screams to the nightmarish, frostbitten atmospheres of ‘Midgard Serpent’, the sheer variety of elements and atmospheres displayed here in rich abundance instantly becomes apparent. With this in mind, the tricky process of selecting just a handful of singles with which to accurately represent the many and varied facets of this vast, genre-defying body of work proved to be no mean feat of achievement.
“The first one was ‘Age of the Absurd’ because I think that that’s a very unique and classic Mantar tune. It’s heavy and furious and somehow also very black and sinister, but on the other hand it’s very groovy, very fist-in-the air, sing-along and I think that was a good representative song of the record. The second song ‘Seek + Forget’ was maybe more classic rock and, in its best moments, like Kiss with this kind of infectious beat going on. It’s very sing-along and then it has this hook melody that almost sounds like Iron Maden or Manowar in an almost medieval-sounding kind of way. I like medieval shit, that’s why I like Manowar. And the third single ‘Taurus’ is just like a display of power, with this huge fat riffing and drumbeat because this band is all about groove. I don’t care about being the fastest band or the heaviest band, I want to be the grooviest band and I think we’re pretty good at that.”
With this wealth of scalding aggression and fathomless darkness finding a richly fertile source of inspiration in the mindlessly destructive evils of humanity, ‘The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze’ comprises a relentlessly bleak observation on a blindly ignorant society doomed, again and again, to repeat its past mistakes. Borrowing its richly symbolic cover design from an 80-year-old piece of Nazi artwork depicting the triumph of the Third Reich, this controversial piece’s continued public presence but largely unknown significance perfectly illustrates, for Hanno, an age of wilful ignorance and stupidity.
“Of course it was an edgy move to put some Nazi art on the cover but, at the same time, it’s not my intention to provoke or shock, that’s not what it’s about,” he elaborates. “It’s more like, this is where we are at this very moment in time. If you could see what’s going on in Germany right now, it fucking makes me angry, or want to cry, even. Of course, I hate right-wing fascists but what I hate even more is that people only work in masses, that they always rely on others to spread their hate, or to defend themselves or attack each other. They never think for themselves. And you know, one person from time to time can be pretty intelligent, but two or three of them? They’re already a hysterical mess. And that’s what the title ‘The Art of Setting Ablaze’ refers to. It’s a tale as old as time itself, people love to follow, to be manipulated. In fact, the whole concept of society, how people try to live together as a collective, I don’t think that ever worked. As I was saying, as soon as a handful of people get together, problems start and if people are not willing to reach a more spiritual level of being, I’m pretty sure we’re going to wipe ourselves out very, very soon. That said,” he pauses for a moment, his tone lightening with wry amusement. “The one good thing about that, is that the stupidity of mankind is a never-ending source of inspiration for art. Always has been, always will be.”
Mantar will play The Dome, London on the 5th December
'The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze' is out now on Nuclear Blast