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A House Of Bones: How MANTAR's Latest Album Was Almost Their Last

An interview with Hanno Klänhardt, and how he had a rough go of things.

Mantar Graveyard 1 by Matthis Van Der Meulen
Matthis Van der Meulen Photo

Where do we go when we've reached the end? That was the question looming large over guitarist/vocalist Hanno Klänhardt and drummer Erinc Sakarya of mighty German metal duo Mantar during the creation of their latest studio offering, the aptly titled Pain Is Forever and This Is the End.

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To quote Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, the duo grabbed that fear and unease surrounding the near ill- fated album production and rode it "like a skeleton horse through the gates of hell!" into victory.

Pain Is Forever and This Is the End is arguably the most polished, surefooted and undeniably kick-ass offering of a musical brotherhood that has cleared a decade of rising from the grimy sludge metal holes of Hamburg, Germany to emerge whole – if not weathered – on the other side.

Hanno sat down with Metal Injection for an honest and lengthy dive into the turbulent album creation, one marred by physical, and emotional, injury, creative fatigue and a brick wall of doubt that nearly spelled the end of Mantar.

Having the chance to see Mantar live a few years back, I was surprised at the atmosphere and the massive sound you guys can create as a two piece. You would think there's five or six band members on stage with the type of energy you bring.

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Well thank you. That's a very nice compliment. Yeah, we always tried that, but I don't even know if that has so much to do with the fact that we are like two people or five people or eight people. I think it has to do with the chemistry among the musicians in a band and not so much about the sheer number, because when we founded Mantar, this two-piece thing was not necessarily on purpose, it was literally nobody wanted to join. We were just like okay! [laughs].

And then we soon realized we can pull it off with the two of us because we've been friends for 15 years before we started the band. So we knew each other in and out when it came to music. Erinc is a few years older than I am, so he introduced me to a lot of music that Mantar is actually based on. So we knew each other so well as music fans. And that's way more important than having a perfect second guitar player or a wonderful bassist or whatever, because it's more about what can you create together based on your passion and chemistry among each other.

Discussing what music you guys loved coming up, the covers album Grungetown Hooligans II, there's some stuff on there that I think folks would be surprised by: Sonic Youth, L7, Mudhoney, different artists that you probably wouldn't bring to the table when you first think about Mantar

It was an important move for us. First of all, the most important thing why we did that was we just had done like three records, a live record and an EP by that time already. We'd been constantly touring and we thought, Hey, it's time to treat yourself. Let's do something fun, you know? No expectations, no pressure whatsoever. That's why we also released it on our own label, and we sold a lot of copies of that one out of Erinc's living room. But we did that in order to entertain ourselves.

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And the second thing was just like also, hey, let's show the people where we're coming from, from a musical standpoint, because everybody thinks Mantar is a straight extreme metal band or something like that. Don't get me wrong, I love my metal, you see like my Bolt Thrower hat. I fucking adore metal especially like Bolt Thrower, Ass Face, Obituary and of course a lot of black metal.

But honestly I never considered us being a heavy metal band. We've been a heavy band, but for us it was more important to be intense than necessarily heavy. And a lot of bands out there hide behind being super fast, super slow or super loud and heavy, but that doesn't necessarily make a good band, you know? So that also has a lot to do with changing gears a little bit with the new record because I didn't want to hide anymore behind scene standards and whatnot.

But the cover record, it was funny. We sat down and said why did we start playing music in the first place? Like what influenced it? And honestly, all these bands that are on the cover record are bands that Erinc introduced me to when I was like 15 or so. I didn't know any of those bands. Like he introduced me to all of them and we thought, Hey, that's just fair. Let's pay tribute to that. And this is where we're coming from. 

That's the motor or the DNA of the band. And of course there's some death metal stuff, obviously black metal stuff and groovy stuff like Motörhead and whatnot. But with this cover record we just wanted to show what we listened to when we were young and made us pick up instruments in the first place.

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If I was to tag (the new album) it would be Black and Roll. A hybrid of black metal and rock 'n' roll. It still has that crusty, heavy black metal/extreme metal feeling, but there's an energy and almost a fun to this record. I was surprised reading through the press release and some of your comments talking about how this was one of the more difficult albums of your career.

I mean yes, to point that out, to make that perfectly clear, this was definitely the album that came together the hardest. It was a complete shit show and I hated every second of it. It put the band to test, and honestly, we almost broke up over it. I'm gonna tell you the story in a second. It's a very bad thing.

Making this cover record showed us like hey, the simplicity of writing simple but effective songs suits the band very, very well. I've always been team "Ace of Spades," "The Boys are Back in Town," "Fat Bottomed Girls" and "Sharp Dressed Man," ZZ Top kind of guy. I love a good song. And I don't care about the label, you know what I mean? A good song is a good song. Music for me, it's always been the hardest currency.

When I started writing new material for this album it was hey, this is a cool sounding riff, but it sounds weirdly familiar. Yeah, it's the bridge of a song on the second album, or it's the outro of a song on the third album and so forth. And then I thought Oh my God, we have to reset everything to zero here and then start from the complete beginning. I grew up and I mostly listened to classic rock, so simple songs but effective songs and also have a very strong punk background. That's always been very important to me.

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And after six, seven, eight years in the game, I do not want to read [about the album], sludge and doom and all this. Don't get me wrong, but what is sludge even supposed to be? What is that? People playing slow and have no identity or even worse, fucking stoner rock. What the fuck is that? You know, that's the worst thing I can think of somebody classifying music. That's music for potheads, what the fuck?  I want to write good music and I don't care what label it is, you know? And I know a lot of bands claim that, but again, with the new Mantar record, it's not about being heavy, it's about being intense. That's a huge difference.

And you can be super dark and sinister even without playing blast beats and tremolo black metal picking for 45 minutes straight. You still can have that in you, deeply rooted in your DNA as a musician and as a band. And we do, but the core main ingredient for this record actually is just like, let's get rid of all shit that doesn't serve the song in any way. Whenever I pick up a guitar, you have a certain muscle memory in your brain, but also in your fingers. I start to play these sludgy, whatever you call it, riffs, and they all sound the same. And so I was like dude, fuck this, this is so fucking boring that has no value.

And when you take the first single like "Hang 'Em Low," for instance, that hook, that could be a Kiss riff. It's so fucking simple. It's not even dark. It's just played evil in a very sinister way. We always had these kinds of songs when you think about the Death by Burning record, there's songs like "The Stoning" that's pure Motörhead rock 'n' roll there. It's just dark in the way we present it, but it's not necessarily like dark chords or something like that.

And to finish the story really quick. The album, the way it came together, it was very bad. You know, we never made long term plans because we're a punk band by heart. I think a lot of bands release records out of a habit because that's what they do. But I think you should only release if you have something to give, something to add to your legacy, not to repeat yourself. Erinc and I had a serious discussion like hey, do we want to make another Mantar record? Do we feel like the world needs another Mantar record?

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And then we decided okay, maybe we still have something left. I live in Florida, so I flew to Germany like okay, let's start to get this going. And usually we like to get in a rehearsal room and then in a few weeks we put together a new album. Anyways, Erinc got married around that time. When I was at his wedding, I wanted to take a picture of him. Kneeling down and while kneeling I twisted my knee and tore my meniscus very complicatedly. So no record, just me in the hospital, surgeries, no health insurance, money problems, bed ridden, total shit show.

Flew back and two months later I call up Erinc again like hey, I went through physical therapy, surgery, everything is good again. I can walk without crutches. I was one week off crutches. I fly back to Germany in order to do what we couldn't pull off the last time. Christmas 2020, the first night of rehearsal, I slipped in a supermarket after rehearsals tearing the ACL in the same knee. Again, no health insurance. Because who does that happen to twice, you know?

We couldn't believe it. And we tried to build some sort of a hospital bed in the rehearsal room so I could be there lying down playing guitar. But after a week or two we simply gave up because we couldn't pull it off. It felt like the first time ever the universe worked against us. There was something going on, like the stars aligned against us and not in our favor. And I got into a very serious depression. It was like the first time ever, as a punk musician, it was weird to not be on top of things and do whatever the fuck you want and what time and how and whatnot.

And so I flew back to the U.S. We didn't talk for quite some time, like for a month or two because we both had to cope with it and deal with it because we were so both devastated and sad about this whole shit. And afterwards we found out we both flirted with the idea of quitting the band. And then I called up Erinc, actually I wrote him an email and said Hey, I'm cool with the band being over, but it's got to be over on our terms. Not because anything, anywhere, anyhow, something in the world says the band is over.

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No fucking injury. No this, no that. If we want this band to be over we decide right now the band is over and we go back to being just friends, just as we have been 15 years before the band. I'm cool with it I said, but let me try one thing first. Let me try to produce some demos at home. I will send it to you and you tell me if you like it. And if you like it, you can record the drums based on the demos.

I did that, he liked the songs. He recorded the drums in Germany because I couldn't go back a third time due to COVID and shit and hospitals and whatnot. I was on the phone and on Skype while he recorded the drums. He sent over the drum tracks and I recorded the rest in my house. And that's how the record came together.

But even while I was on it, it was almost bipolar. Like in the morning I woke up and I thought Hey, I just created the greatest new track here. And in the evening I go to bed and think the whole band and everything that I ever did is total shit, almost like imposter syndrome, you know? And Erinc had to call me all the time, like Hey kid, keep going. It's good. Trust me. I completely lost focus there.

So everything about this album, nothing came together easily. It was no fun. And the band almost broke up over it. And the title Pain Is Forever This Is the End was just the fun, cynical working title like "I Hate Myself and I Want to Die" by Nirvana, just a silly joke. And once the record was done I realized, goddamn, this became a very bitter reality. And I'm still honestly trying to recover from this. It was like a shitty one and a half years. It was so bad.

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And the record starts with a song called “Egoisto”, And the first words are 'I live in a house made out of bones, on every wall hangs a cross'. And that's just obviously a reference to all the physical shit I went through, but also 'on every wall hangs a cross', like my big mouth almost like a religious reference reminding what I promised myself and the world that I will finish this album no matter what, even though it means I ruin myself over it and I almost did. And the problem was when I said I live in a house that is made out of bones, I built, unfortunately, this house from the inside.

And when you build a house from the inside it becomes a jail, like a prison. Because after a few days, after some time, you see nothing but walls. And no matter which direction you go, you bounce into a wall and you lose perspective. And you get so fucking imprisoned by your own fucking overwhelming ideas of what you want to do. I made my peace with this record, but it's definitely the most sinister, darkest record we ever did, which is so funny because on the other hand it's the most catchy and fun one to listen to. But I think that's beautiful. I like it.

You mentioned you've made your peace with the album. If you're working on the songs, preparing them for a live performance, do you think you'll be drawn back to that place and those feelings? Or can you look at it on the other side now and be like, Fuck, I created something great here.

Yes, I can. But it's not so much fuck I created something great. It's more like it's like a fucking rodeo, you know? I'm willing to ride that dragon, you know what I mean? It's just like, for me, the album right now is like a head of a bear or a moose that's hanging on my wall that I conquered as a hunter. I won. I defeated the monster that I created.

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It was fucking close and I almost got fucking the band broke up over it. We as a personal and individual person broke up over it. We went through a lot of therapy shit between the two of us too along that line. But the album, I see it like I conquered the dragon and now I'm going to fucking ride the shit out of it. But it almost was the other way around.

If you listen to this record, it feels like the most produced Mantar album, and I mean that in the best way. I know you've talked about this in the past, wanting the records to mirror the live performance. And because you guys are such an in-your-face live band, you wanted to capture that on the albums. But in this case it's polished and refined in all the best ways. It's kind of the least DIY, punk, black metal aesthetic of any Mantar record.

You know, the reason why that is is because when I started recording, I produced it myself. I engineered myself, you know, that's what I do. I record everything at home. I wasn't sure that we were ever going to play live again, to be quite frank, for two reasons. This whole fucking COVID thing, but also mainly because I was afraid that the band is not going to survive the stress of making this album. So I thought, Hey, I don't even know if we're ever going to be together on a stage again, and at least I want to make it sound (pauses), I don't want to limit myself. I want to make this recording sound as good as I can, and I want to produce the song to the best of my ability, the best that I can.

That's why I put more effort in it this time, because the perspective was a completely different one, because we didn't even know if we would ever end up on stage again for several reasons. Also, we didn't have to prove to anyone anymore what we can pull off live. We don't have to prove anymore that we can pull off what we do live, you know? And then that's why I thought, hey, it could be fun to dare a little bit more in production. Because I like myself a well-produced record a whole lot. I enjoy it.

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And it was very different also with the guitar sounds and so many little details. Every song that I recorded, after I was done, we set the mixing desk and everything, picked new microphones, new speakers, new guitar, new amps, and started from the beginning. And because I had a vision of the songs in my head and I chose the equipment and the guitar sounds based on what I had in my head.

That's the problem and a little bit my beef, for instance, with The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze. It's a great record, but we went in the studio, we dialed in the sound and we recorded the whole album from front to back. And it's always on. There's almost no dynamics in the songwriting, and that's also a little bit due to the production. It's just constantly bahhhhhh in your face, which is great, but I like this record better because it has way more dynamics. For instance, it goes a little bit a step backwards in the verses to make the chorus pop more and stuff like that. It has more dynamics, I think.

Man, for once I don't even know where to really end this interview. This record is such a fascinating study. The juxtaposition of the feeling of the record as a fan and knowing what you guys went through for it, it's so fascinating … if you consider the feeling and the vibe of the record versus what was put into it on the outside, you would think this must have been a fucking blast to create. But it was all trials and tribulations.

I just still did my very best. And honestly, it would have been more painful to give up than to pull through. But to tell you the truth, we are very consequent with whatever we are doing as people and we always handled this band that way. If we would have finished the band, the album, and it would have turned out like, ehh, it's okay, we would have shook hands and buried the band. It would have been over because like I said, it's like a fucking old Viking. If you can't fight no more, you go to the forest and hang yourself and go up to Valhalla.

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I'm exaggerating here, but if you don't have anything to give anymore, form a new band, do something else. It's a fucking band. Let's not make rocket science out of it. Maybe this is the punk background, you know? But I have a lot of respect for people who know when it's over. And that's fine. Like, we did a lot, and the band got further than we ever thought it could. And it was the main thing for me within the last eight, nine years and I'm just grateful. I'm just very, very thankful for everything that we experienced.

But at this point I'm super happy that the record came out fucking strong. A lot of people say it's the best from an objective perspective we have done so far. I'm very proud of it. And like I said, I'm on top of the monster. I'm riding the beast here and I'm happy about that because it could have been very easily the other way around. And I can't wait to get out there and shoot, fucking kill, destroy, fuck shit up. That's what we do.

Pain Is Forever and This Is the End is available July 15th through Metal Blade Records. Catch Mantar on select European tour dates throughout 2022 with Valborg and Nightmarer.

9/9 Hannover (DE) Bei Chez Heinz
9/16 Köln (DE) Essigfabrik
9/23 München (DE) Backstage Werk
9/24 Hamburg (DE) Fabrik
9/29 Wiesbaden (DE) Schlachthof
9/30 Stuttgart (DE) Im Wizemann
10/1 Nürnberg (DE) Z-Bau
10/7 Rostock (DE) Zwischenbau
10/8 Berlin (DE) C-Theater

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