When Hanno Klänhard was a child growing up in Bremen, Germany, he and his friends were fascinated by a massive gold-colored sculpture that hung over a walkway in their town. "It's a freaking angel with a sword fighting dragons!" the guitarist/singer of metal duo Mantar describes of the excitement he felt when he first came across the fantastical art piece. "You think, This is awesome! Then you start investigating where it's from."
What Klänhard would eventually discover, as an adult, deeply unsettled him. The sculpture — "Der Lichtbringer" (which translates into "Bringer of Light") — was created by the German expressionist, and Nazi sympathizer, Bernhard Hoetger, and installed at the entrance of Böttcherstraße, a street in Bremen's historical district, in 1936. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there isn't any public marker denoting its dubious political leanings.
"It was [made] in order to flatter the Nazi party 80 years ago," Klänhard explains of Hoetger's tribute (which, ironically, was ultimately labeled "degenerate art" by Hitler before the artist was expelled from the Nazi party). "When World War II was over, people just pretended nothing happened … People don't want to hear about the initial meaning anymore."
When it came time to choose the cover art for the Mantar's latest album of scabbed-over doom-punk and black metal heaviness, The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze, Klänhard and drummer Erinç Sakarya opted to push "Der Lichtbringer" to the forefront, despite its history. Though controversial, the move was made to call attention to society's general ignorance and apathy, a pair of regrettably relevant traits in today's current hostile political climate.
"There's something really bad on the rise at this very moment. Not only in the United States, but also in Europe," says Klänhard, who currently resides in Gainesville, Florida. "There are a lot of strong fascist parties coming up, and people just close their eyes and ears and pretend nothing's going on. Or even agree with that shit! When they don't agree, they just look in another direction because, at this very moment, it's not against them. And that's just fucking scary.
"I used ["Der Lichtbringer"] because it still hangs here in Germany, which of course has a past," he continues. "There's no sign with an explanation next to it. I found that to be spooky. With the title, The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze, the 'modern' part of it is a little bit cynical because it's not modern at all. It happened 80 years ago, 500 years ago, 2000 years ago. It's about the fire in the minds of men, and the people who set those fires. Of course, it's a little bit edgy and can be misunderstood …"
To that end, when the album's cover was revealed, Mantar preemptively addressed any potential criticism that they were sympathetic to the fascist cause that inspired "Der Lichtbringer" in an Instagram post that pictures Klanhard hanging his head in shame in front of Hoetger's folly. The guitarist's caption suggests it's time to confront uncomfortable truths instead of "trying to pretend this period of history and the liability of man to blindly follow any sort of leader is over."
Speaking on a Skype call between European festival dates, Klänhard further delved into why he and his writing partner are willing to merge Mantar's "crude music" with problematic fine art in order to address the atrocities of the past and present ages.
ALL THREE MANTAR ALBUM TITLES ARE CENTERED AROUND FIRE IN SOME WAY. WHAT'S THE ATTRACTION TO THIS THEME.
HANNO KLÄNHARD I've always been fascinated with the concept of fire. It's a very strong element. On one level, it just stands for passion, a certain iron will to do things. I'm not referring to the passion of a musician, I'm referring to a much higher level of passion. I just like the idea that fire doesn't accept any other element next to it.
In a philosophical way, I really like the idea that fire always symbolizes a restart, because after a fire there's nothing left except for ashes. And after that loss, or restart, something grows out of the ashes— a phoenix out of the ashes, or however you want to say it.
ON A MUSICAL LEVEL, DO YOU SEE MANTAR PROGRESSING INTO EACH ALBUM IN THAT SAME FASHION? ARE YOU RAZING THINGS TO THE GROUND AFTER AN ALBUM CYCLE AND MOVING ON TO THE NEXT ONE?
We don't try to reinvent ourselves every time and forget about everything we did before. That's not the mission of this band. We have a certain style that we like, and that we're good at that. It's more that we don't make compromises. We play primitive music. One-dimensional, crude music. We just have drums and a guitar — our weapons, so to speak, that we use to fight. That doesn't allow any compromise whatsoever.
THEN WHAT ABOUT ON THE LEVEL OF SOCIETY? MAYBE IT'S IN PART BECAUSE SOCIAL MEDIA MAKES US MORE AWARE OF OUR SURROUNDINGS, BUT WE'RE IN A TENSE, REBUILDING TIME. EVERYONE IS STRESSED OUT … IT FEELS LIKE WE'RE HEADED TOWARDS DOOMSDAY. MAYBE THAT FLAME IS RISING UP?
I feel that way sometimes. I don't think we're on the peak yet, which is a bad thing because I think there's potential for things to be even worse. It's hard to imagine, but there's probably a point of no return. Maybe then everything is going to end in fire again? Maybe it needs to, because earth [will be] getting rid of the plague that we are.
I think we've given this planet a very hard time, and I don't know how long this is still going to work. The earth itself is so freaking old. Old beyond understanding. Maybe several generations [more] are still going to [exist], but in the blink of time that's nothing. I personally think that humanity is still far away from reaching another spiritual level.
The doomsday you mentioned? It's probably going to [happen]. I don't know if we're going to see it, but it's going to happen sooner or later unless we learn how to live with this planet, and not just on this planet.
HOW DOES THAT TIE INTO A SONG LIKE THE NEW ALBUM'S "AGE OF THE ABSURD."
Every generation thinks they live in the most fucked up time imaginable. For me, being a 30-year-old man, I witness this time we're living in right now as the age of the absurd, because nothing makes any sense to me: How people treat each other, how people treat this planet we're living on, how people treat themselves. I don't get it.
THERE'S A MANTAR T-SHIRT THAT USES WHAT I ASSUME IS A DARKLY IRONIC SLOGAN OF "ALWAYS GIVE UP!" DESPITE THAT, HOW DO WE GET TO THE NEXT STEP, TO GET PAST THE AGE OF ABSURD?
I have no idea … I just report what I see. There's also a certain morbid fascination for the age of the absurd, for the fucked-upness of stuff that's going on at this very moment. It's not that I offer a solution — I leave that to Bono and U2; I play in an extreme metal band. I don't want to say that I enjoy this, but the never-ending stupidity of man is a never-ending source of inspiration.
I hope we find [the answer] one day; I hate the fact that I'm just a passive part of this and do not try my very best to make this world a better place, because I like living. I like being on this planet. I like being alive. I'd hate to die at this moment. But at this moment I don't have a better solution or approach on how to make things better. I think you have to start with a very small circle of family and friends, and [with] how to treat each other. Probably live with passion?
That's another big part of the record, lyrically: just think for yourself. Do not try to heighten the hate of the masters … do not wholesale the plans for any kind of leader, no matter which direction they're coming from. Think for yourself, act for yourself, live for yourself, and try not to hurt other people around you. On the other hand … be ready to defend yourself when you're in need.
Regarding the shirt, of course that's an ironic joke. [People] sometimes label us a hardcore band. When I think hardcore, I often think about New York tough guy shit. [Laughs] They have these very wannabe smart slogans on their shirts, like, 'Never give up', 'There's always going to be a tomorrow' or 'Unite in pride'. I thought it was funny to say, 'Always give up.' That has dark humour to it, a certain cynical approach.
TYING TOGETHER YOUR MORBID FASCINATION WITH THE DARKER SIDE WITH THE IDEA OF NOT FOLLOWING LEADERS, I'M WONDERING IF YOU COULD TALK ABOUT THE ART USED FOR THE ALBUM COVER. ONCE YOU KNOW THE HISTORY OF BERNARD HOETGER'S ORIGINAL SCULPTURE, IT'S AN INTENSE PIECE OF ART TO CONSIDER. THIS HANGS IN A PUBLIC SPACE IN BREMEN?
Near a hotel in Bremen, correct.
USING A PIECE OF ART THAT WAS ORIGINALLY CREATED IN SUPPORT OF THE THIRD REICH COULD BE GREATLY MISCONSTRUED. WHAT WAS THE REASON BEHIND CHOOSING THIS IMAGE FOR YOUR OWN ART?
Yes, it can be misunderstood, but I didn't use it in order to confuse people, or even worse to provoke or shock people with some sort of edgy artwork. That's way too lame, you know? I used that because there's no [other] piece of art I've found that points to the zeitgeist — the political climate that we're living in — any better. It still hangs here in Germany! It was in order to flatter the Nazi party 80 years ago. When World War II was over, people just pretended nothing happened — "It's just an angel! the archangel fighting the power of darkness!" People don't want to hear about the initial meaning anymore.
There's something really bad on the rise at this very moment. Not only in the United States, but also in Europe. There are a lot of strong fascist parties coming up, and people just close their eyes and ears and pretend nothing's going on. Or even agree with that shit! When they don't agree, they just look in another direction because, at this very moment, it's not against them. And that's just fucking scary.
I used ["Der Lichtbringer"] because it still hangs here in Germany, which of course has a past. There's no sign with an explanation next to it. I found that to be spooky. With the title, The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze, the "modern" part of it is a little bit cynical because it's not modern at all. It happened 80 years ago, 500 years ago, 2000 years ago. It's about the fire in the minds of men, and the people who set those fires. Of course, it's a little bit edgy and can be misunderstood, but I think with a certain explanation, which I'm happy to give right here or over social media, it makes sense. What do you think?
I GET THAT, BUT IT MAKES ME UNCOMFORTABLE. YOU DON'T WANT TO FORGET THE PAST, BUT THE COUNTER ARGUMENT COULD BE THAT GIVING "LICHTBRINGER" SUCH A PROMINENT FEATURE WITH YOUR ALBUM IS GIVING POWER TO THAT POLITIC, THAT IDEOLOGY. REGARDLESS OF YOUR INTENT.
[If anybody] thinks that we're involved with right-wing ideology, you're insulting my intelligence. I know what you're saying, but I don't think so. What it does, though, is it puts it right into your face and says, 'Deal with it'. That's the times we're living in! We have fascist parties on the rise all over Europe again. It's not a fantasy, it's a fact. It would be very easy to put a fucking pile of corpses on your cover, or a nun fucking herself with a cross, or something like that. That's not how our artwork works. Our artwork is real. That shit really happened. It's real, as real as it had been 80 years ago.
YOU MENTIONED EARLIER THAT THERE ISN'T ANYTHING DENOTING THE HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS PIECE IN A PUBLIC SPACE. AT WHAT POINT DID YOU FIGURE OUT ITS HISTORY?
Not super long ago. You walk by it when you were a little kid and you're fascinated by it, because it's huge, it's gold, and it's three dimensional. It's a freaking angel with a sword fighting dragons! You think, This is awesome! Then you start investigating where it's from. The part of it that's fucked up is that you don't learn about it in school. You don't even learn about it by a sign next to the piece of art. You have to investigate it [on your own] to find the real meaning.
I'm very interested in history itself. Being from Germany and knowing about the historical past of Germany, it was not a shock. It made total sense. It's not the last existing piece of a very dark past, you know.
GOING BACK TO THE IDEAS OF LEADERS AND FOLLOWERS, CAN YOU TALK A BIT ABOUT THE MEANING BEHIND THE NEW ALBUM'S "OBEY THE OBSCENE"?
Well, the songs are pretty much all about the same subject matter. "Obey the Obscene" is about standing in line and just accepting commands from a boss, instead of thinking for yourself. That's the root of all evil. That's why that picture on the cover we're using had a chance in the first place. If people would have thought for themselves and not accepted hate indoctrinated by third parties, all of that would not have been possible.
IT SOUNDS LIKE THERE'S A FUNERAL ORGAN ON "OBEY THE OBSCENE," SO THERE ARE SOME SOUNDS THAT YOU'RE ADDING TO THE FORMULA. WHAT WAS THE CREATIVE PROCESS BEHIND THIS ALBUM? WAS THIS MOSTLY WRITTEN IN FLORIDA?
First off , the funeral organ you hear is guitar. I don't use any organs or synthesizers. All you hear is made by guitar and drums. I'm just a nerdy tech geek, so I know how to make these sounds with a guitar.
The songwriting itself has changed a whole lot because I live in the United states and Erinç, the drummer, still lives in Germany. I wrote the material completely by myself back home in Florida, which gives me more freedom and no pressure. I can sit home on the porch or the office and just write music. And then I take the raw material the riffs and song ideas over to Germany and presented the material to Erinç.
WHAT PART OF FLORIDA ARE YOU IN?
I live in Gainesville.
DO YOU KNOW OF NO IDEA RECORDS?
Of course I know No Idea. [Laughs] It's a small town, man. Against Me are from there. Hot Water Music are from there.
I'M LITERALLY WEARING A HOT WATER MUSIC SHIRT RIGHT NOW.
There you go! We actually recorded at Black Bear Studios. That's also where Hot Water Music used to record. [Gainesville] is a very small town. Pretty much everybody knows everybody. It's a nice place. I just bought a house. I'm very comfortable there.
YOU PROBABLY RUN INTO PEOPLE INVOLVED WITH THAT LABEL AND SCENE. HAD YOU LISTENED TO THOSE BANDS GROWING UP?
I personally never listened to Hot Water Music or Against Me!, that just wasn't my style. I respect those bands a whole lot, though. I listen to Tom Petty a whole lot, and he was from Gainesville. That's more my jam.
PRIOR TO BEING A METALHEAD, WHAT WERE SOME OF YOUR FORMATIVE MUSICAL IMPRESSIONS?
I don't think I'm a metalhead, to be honest, and I don't think Mantar is a metal band. We just have a big metal crowd, and we exist in the metal community. We never founded this band in order to be a metal band, that just happened by accident. Nevertheless, I got an AC/DC tape or two — If You Want Blood You've Got It and Highway to Hell — from the flea market when I was six years old. I fell in love with that; to this very day they're my number one band. They mean the world to me.
When I was 11 years old, I got into more metal. I discovered Ride the Lightning by Metallica, and all the German thrash classics like Sodom, Kreator, and Destruction. For my twelfth birthday, I got Chaos A.D. by Sepultura from my mom. I got into punk big time when I was a teenager, because I really liked the freedom and the DIY approach. That's why we still have a very strong DIY ethic with Mantar, and pretty much do everything ourselves. We control 110 percent of our artistic output. Then I got into black metal a whole lot. That's where I'm coming from, I guess.
I'M UP IN VANCOUVER RIGHT NOW, AND SO ARE AC/DC. IT LOOKS LIKE THEY'RE RECORDING WITH BRIAN JOHNSON. HE LOOKS TO BE BACK IN THE BAND.
For real? When Axl sang, I gave away my tickets. Nothing against it. I heard it was decent, but I couldn't do it. That band means so much to me. They're recording again?
THEY RECORDED THEIR LAST FEW ALBUMS UP HERE AT A STUDIO CALLED THE WAREHOUSE. SOMEONE POSTED A PHOTO THE OTHER DAY OF PHIL RUDD AND BRIAN JOHNSON SMOKING OUTSIDE OF THE BUILDING. IT LOOKS LIKE THEY COULD BE BACK IN THE REGULAR LINEUP?
That would be a great thing. I hope so, man!
BACK TO MANTAR, YOU'RE PLAYING FESTIVALS FOR THE REST OF THE SUMMER, BUT WHAT'S THE FIRST THING YOU'RE GOING TO DO WHEN YOU GET BACK TO GAINESVILLE?
I'm a baker. It's how I relax from tour. I bake bread like a maniac because American bread sucks so much; the German bread is so good. I spent the last year becoming quite a decent baker. I make my own sourdoughs; I make my own yeast out of old fruits.
WITH SOURDOUGH YOU HAVE TO TRACK DOWN THE PROPER MOTHER [A PRE-FERMENTED STARTER DOUGH CONTAINING WILD YEAST AND NATURALLY OCCURRING BACTERIA], RIGHT? THAT'S THE CULTURE THAT MAKES IT SOUR?
It's a little creature, so to speak. You have to feed them all the time — some water, some flour — and you've got to handle them with care like little kids. It needs a lot of patience. Baking bread has taught me lessons in patience, which I needed badly. A good bread takes between 19 and 72 hours. I make a very good fresh baguette. I have them in the fridge for 72 hours before the dough has the right consistency. The result is mind-blowing. It's worth the wait.
WAS BAKING SOMETHING YOU'D UNDERTAKEN BEFORE MOVING TO FLORIDA?
Absolutely not. It was all in Florida, because that was when I gave up my day job. So between tours, I had weeks where I had flexible schedules. I could pretty much do whatever the fuck I wanted, [but] I got into baking. I've always been a cook, but baking was new for me. That's probably what I'm going to concentrate on once the band is done.
WHAT'S YOUR BEST LOAF?
Probably a good sourdough, a rustic bread that literally has nothing in it. Good bread, by the way, has nothing in it but water, flour, salt. You don't even need yeast, you just need time. I also make a damn good focaccia.