Interview with vocalist/guitarist Hanno Klänhardt | By Hutch | Photos by Christoph Eisenmenger
The duo of drummer Erinc Sakarya and vocalist and guitarist Hanno Klänhardt comprise the unrelenting metallic force named Mantar. The two Germans—one of whom, Klänhardt, has relocated to Florida—have pierced flesh with the sonic fangs of a hungry wolf since 2012. Now, Mantar’s third full-length, The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze, is due out Aug. 24 through Nuclear Blast.
Of their new, frenzied output, Klänhardt notes, “We are a very young, hungry band [existing] just for five years. We apparently have a lot to say. Therefore, there’s already three LPs, an EP, and a live record. I realize, compared to other bands, that’s quite a lot.” Klänhardt explains that Mantar’s formula stems from his constant ideas and his work ethic, espousing their busy infancy. “We jammed for two months, and then, we record a debut record,” he says, referencing 2014’s Death By Burning. “The very same year, we already played in the Unites States. We started touring different continents while bands didn’t even release a demo. We are a straightforward, very hardworking band.”
Of course, when there are only two members, fewer mouths offer opinions, but Klänhardt shouldn’t lose any credit. “It is easier [with two members], but also easier because I am a work plough horse, and I work so much, and I write majority of the music. I am always in some creative process, and when I have enough, I approach Erinc, and we make songs out of it.” While Klänhardt distills the process down, the music sounds like the result of arduous dedication.
The focus on The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze is stripped-down music. Mantar’s raw, low tones and big, chunky riffs are achieved without a bass. Check the breakdown in the first track, “Age of the Absurd,” in which a dominating, low-tuned string rumbles and grabs attention. It sounds just like a ravenous bass yearning to evoke eruption. Often on The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze, Mantar present a big riff, played loosely. The aura is a live, roll-with-it feeling. Turn to “Seek + Forget” for a grandiose setting. “Dynasty of Nails” and “Obey the Obscene” offer the best of Mantar: pulsating, busy tracks with layered guitars, leads that ensnare the listener with thunderous sludge tones, drums that fuse Motörhead, black metal execution, and fast tempos with thick, ugly doom.
The evocative cover of The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze is the golden sculpture “Lichtbringer”—or “Bringer of Light”—crafted by Bernhard Hoetger in April of 1936 to show his admiration for Hitler. Klänhardt is quick to announce that it is not meant to glorify but to warn. The piece hangs in their hometown of Bremen, Germany. It is from the age of the Nazis despite its Roman look: shiny gold depicting an angel with a sword about to decapitate a three-headed dragon. Bremen is 60 miles west of Hamburg in northern Germany, and the art hangs in an old public court in a historic district.
Klänhardt admits that the image portrayed is dripping with sinister meaning but is also impressive. “I always liked the way it looked,” he says. “The dude with a huge-ass sword is about to slay a three-headed dragon. It’s metal as fuck. I always thought it would be cool to put on a record.” Considering the apologetic signs usually looming in Germany, this oversight is puzzling. Klänhardt explains his surprise when discovering the truth. “A few years ago, I learned about the meaning,” he recalls. “It is very dark, made in the ’30s to flatter the Nazi party to show the power of the Third Reich—fighting the spirits of evil. It’s dark and gnarly as fuck, but what’s so crazy to me is it still hangs in a German town with no commentary, no telling of its origin. That is scary and made me think.”
Klänhardt reveals its foreboding connection to our current era. “We live in dark times, and people are falling for false leaders and false prophets again,” he asserts. “People refuse to think for themselves, pretty much forever. Mankind is doomed to repeat the same mistakes all over again. Everything is based on hate and manipulation, and I’m not talking of Europe only. Also I’m talking of the United States, and you know what I am referring to.” The link is obvious, hanging in the air like dense fog, regardless of Klänhardt’s refusal to name names.
“Everything is based on hate and manipulation,” he continues. “This is crazy. People just deny the original meaning of this piece of art. And now, it may come in handy again, because the spirit is the same as it was in the ’30s, 80 years ago. We live in dangerous times. People are falling for hate and false prophets, and people like to hide in the hate of the crowd.”
As turmoil and racist exploits are heralded as nationalist strides, history echoes in deaf ears and blind desperation. “It seems there is a tendency in man to be unwilling to learn—80 years ago, 500 years ago, 4,000 years ago,” Klänhardt adds. “That is something that scares the shit out of me. I’m not even referring to a certain political ideal. It can also work for religious beliefs too. The bottom line is the stupidity of man is a never-ending source of inspiration.” Hard to argue. The tenacity of ignorant, egregious proclamations lends ripe fodder for misanthropes making music. The maligned can search an internet rife with assaults and violence propelled by fierce nationalism. Alas, Klänhardt is only commenting. “We’re not a political band,” he admits. “We’re not offering a solution, and I don’t want to bore the people. It’s more of a morbid fascination with [mankind’s] stupidity.”
The natural inclination is to inquire about Klänhardt’s impression of the South, specifically his new home of Florida. Between the news and talk shows, Florida becomes an easy target, but Klänhardt refuses to sling arrows. “When I come back to Germany, the overall mood is just as poisoned,” he says. “They hate on people who are not the same. I can’t accept that it is as bad in Florida. It’s not any better in Europe.”
Klänhardt seems to have escaped the trap so many others fall into. His mind does not succumb to the gracious allure of lineage. “First of all, I do not know that I don’t fall,” he corrects. Klänhardt explains a more nuanced world, one that is often ignored in headlines, and offers a fluid definition of his leanings on the spectrum—or at least acknowledges that it is a continuous struggle. “None of us should be too confident for being able to fall for that shit. That’s exactly the problem,” he says. “You realize you are falling for a mass idea, for a common hate. I don’t think I’m any better than anyone else, just to make that perfectly clear. You might be politically interested. You read books and you try to educate yourself, you listen to the news—not just certain news. You get several opinions that you base your own ones on. You have an education and willingness to learn and not stop learning.” Klänhardt exhales, “In general, I think just being a human being is fucking dangerous. It’s easy to fall for false leaders.”
The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze rings with voracious damnation. The venom culled from these headlines and seething populations on both sides of the Atlantic cannot allow an independent mind to rest. The search is constant. “To find your own opinion, that’s a good thing,” Klänhardt says. “The problem is that certain parts of United States—the smaller the area, the bigger the problem becomes.” Again, he refuses to point a finger quickly. “And I don’t blame those people. They get educated on bumper stickers in a village with 50 guys who swing confederate flags, then go to a high school only with these types of folks.” Klänhardt issues heed but concurrently begs for hesitance in the righteous side’s hubris and judgment. “Never forget education and living in a free society is a privilege that not everyone has. It’s easy to blame the South and say, ‘Hey, those are stupid, dumb rednecks.’ The problem is those people may not have had the privilege of learning.”
Or growing up around other humans with different backgrounds. This is the immediate issue. Klänhardt spouts quickly, “It’s a proven fact that the more people are not around minorities, the more they hate them. We have that in eastern Germany. The biggest area with the biggest racism has the least amount of foreign people. Of course, it’s such a big deal in, like, the Bronx or Brooklyn, but if you live in the middle of nowhere and have no chance of getting an education and you don’t have someone take you by the hand to say, ‘Hey, start thinking for yourself,’ it’s hard to break out of the vicious circle.”
“That’s where album title comes from, The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze,” he notes. “People refuse to think for themselves. If they did, there would be nothing like mass control, mass religion, mass political ideas like communism, fascism, and all those isms. Everyone would be able to think for themselves and not [think] that everyone else who has a different opinion or skin color is a dangerous threat.”
The curious, open minds of Mantar are secure in a time when music blossoms from so many genres that bleed into each other. Genres such as “blackened thrash” or “deathgrind” get applied, but Mantar harvest many different fans across the breadth of extreme metal. Klänhardt stirs, “Labels are unnecessary. We’ve never been involved in any certain scene or any scene codex. We definitely didn’t get together saying, ‘Let’s make a death metal band’ or ‘[Let’s] play sludge metal or punk.’ We just play as hard as possible. That’s what people like about Mantar. Not being the 64,000th band simulating Swedish death metal like Entombed or trying to mimic Florida death metal or the second wave of Norwegian black metal. We only know how to write heavy riffs and play groovy drum beats. We are not good at pleasing people searching for a certain sound. I couldn’t care less. Seriously. No fucks given.”
To execute these 12 tracks, Mantar had to coordinate two schedules separated by the Atlantic. Klänhardt was adamant about recording in his home state. “This is the first time we recorded in the U.S., because I live there nowadays, and I wanted to record at home,” he explains. “I got a lot of material in the last 12 months. So, a year ago, I got with Erinc. We went to Bremen, and we made songs out of it. We recorded them in Florida—very quick and dirty. Again, no producer. Jonathan Nuñez, the guitar player of Torche, he was the engineer and mixer. He is responsible for the sound. We had briefly met at Hellfest in 2016. We recorded part in Gainesville, part in Miami. The creative process was different, because we live so far away from each other now. It’s positive. It’s a blessing.”
It may seem counterintuitive for a duo to need separation, but Klänhardt breaks down his logic, sharing, “We toured so much in the last four years, we were together on a constant basis. We needed to give each other space in order to be creative again.” That refreshing break helped invigorate some new ideas and a honed approach, which can be heard ripping through the tumultuous atmospheric settings and the flares of production on “The Formation of Night.” About 90 seconds into the track, the guitar drops to isolate the drums, then surges back into the song with a piercing lead. Emboldened by a thrashy groove, the pacing of “Anti Eternia” lends itself to bombastic declarations with mid-tempo romps.
Klänhardt reflects on the foundations of the material for The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze. “I could sit on my porch and play my guitar without any pressure,” he says. “I could create riffs, songs, and ideas. It took away a lot of the pressure. It’s hard to be together so much and meet at 4 o’clock and say, ‘Hey, let’s be creative’ in order to make a record. We had to be apart and then get together.”
As the final notes of the album’s closer—aptly titled “The Funeral”—ring, a darkness is absorbed. The slower, twisted aspects of The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze’s vision plods on the five-minute song. Dual haunted vocals bandy. Drums pound. One reflects on the dichotomy—or the irony—that The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze was penned in the constant sunshine of Florida. The impact was either nil or invasive. Surprisingly, Klänhardt evades the morose image of a metal writer, escaping the pretentious assumption that melancholy is the sole inspiration for this music. “I’m not much of a night person. I like to get up early with the sun and walk the dog and be alone,” he states. “I really like the sun. It’s good for my brain.”
Klänhardt also reports listening to bluegrass and dub music—an odd combination for any person, never mind one who creates such dark and ferocious metal. Klänhardt reiterates his affection for the sun while disqualifying any notion that vitamin D will assuage malicious melodies. “I really like the sunshine,” he asserts. “I lived in Germany for more than 30 years. Bremen is like a bad version of Seattle. It’s fucking rainy, cold, dark—miserable. I sucked up [enough] of that energy for the next 500 years. I am never going to be in a happy-go-lucky, skate punk, ska band. I still have a lot of misery in me to play dark and sinister music.”