“Some men just wanna watch the world burn,” says Michael Caine’s Alfred in The Dark Knight. Sure, he may have been referring to a sadistic maniac dressed like a clown, but the saying also rings true for Germany’s Mantar. The dynamic duo have been championing their volatile blend of incendiary black metal, Motörhead-esque metallic punk and hefty sludge for some time, but one theme unites their entire discography: the destructive purity of fire. Their latest LP is no different, but The Modern Art Of Setting Ablaze has its sights set on slightly different targets than past efforts.
“Fire and Mantar have a long-running relationship,” explains drummer Erinç Sakarya. “It’s a fascinating element that’s strong and able to burn everything to the ground – reset everything to zero. A chance for a fresh start, if you want to put it in a philosophical way. I like the beauty of the flame combined with the power and pain in it. It’s one of the most impressive things that nature ever created.”
The savage intensity of the flames certainly aligns itself well with the noisy rackets of this two-piece completed by guitarist/vocalist Hanno Klänhard, but that answer from Sakarya may seem strangely poetic from a band whose aesthetic has always been one of simplicity. With Mantar, there are no gimmicks, no occult lyrics, no corpse paint, no ego – simply a burning desire to make killer music that does all the talking for them. “The music is the most important thing here,” Sakarya explains. “Way more important than the lyrics. That’s why we usually don’t print our lyrics. The vocals are just another instrument and not something that’s superior.”
That said, even a band as devoted to no-frills bedlam as Mantar can’t escape the bleak reality of the modern world, as song titles like ‘Age Of The Absurd’ attest. “The [album] title stands for masses of people following false prophets,“ Erinç tell us. “Or simply giving up thinking for themselves and letting others lead. It’s hard to ignore that this is a current topic right now if you look at the political situations in many countries.”
“The main theme of this record is the indestructible need for people to follow the wrong guys and masses until they get burned,” he continues. “That’s something that will happen again and again because that behaviour is obviously a weakness in the human character. People prefer hiding within the hate of the masses instead of thinking for themselves. Normally we would consider ourselves as political persons (of course) but not as a political band, but still, this is the major topic lyrically that The Modern Art Of Setting Ablaze is dealing with. It seems like all the dumbness of mankind has been met in the present age.”
How apposite that antagonistic angle is too – Mantar are nothing if not the band you want to hear as the world burns, and the beauty of destruction has long been an inspiration for the duo. “Destruction is fun.” Sakarya quips. “It’s not about hurting anyone, but just letting it out and feeling good. Don’t you think that it’s enjoyable to throw a bottle at a wall? It’s pure fun. I mean… I know that it takes much longer to build stuff up than to destroy it, but I am respectful of everything before destruction… at least in a funny way. It’s like your hair for example; it takes so long to grow your hair long but sometimes you just have to shave your head. There you have radical change within minutes and you’ve destroyed your beautiful hair.”
The band’s music is capable of laying waste to much more than your flowing locks, though. As much as Astral Noize adores an elegantly handled blend of extreme metal’s direct aggression with atmospheric, experimental touches, it’s always thrilling to see a band who can carve out their own niche whilst still championing a sound that’s raw, primal and heavy as fuck. “Our main goal [when we started] was to play music as hard and heavy as possible,” Sakarya divulges. “I wouldn’t even say that we are unique. There are so many two-piece bands doing heavy stuff nowadays. Our specialty is maybe the mix of influences and abilities. We both have a punk rock background but the metal influence is way bigger on Hanno’s side. I bring in some straight hard-hitting drums and then we mix it all up until it sounds okay. We put as much energy as possible in it. That is something that’s very important for us.”
Okay may be an understatement, because whilst it might not sound that punk, quality control is integral in the Mantar camp. The band signed to Nuclear Blast Records for the release of 2016’s Ode To The Flame and quickly demanded that they would only agree to release the record once they were 100% happy with it – if not, they’d scrap it and walk. This ballsy, dedicated approach is endearing in a scene in which many lament over the way some labels push bands to commercialise, but it stems quite simply from the duo’s dedication to their output. “It’s just the way we work,” as Erinç puts it. “It may be kinda old school, but we won’t change it. We are our harshest critics and the songs have to pass our own benchmark first before we put them on a record. Sometimes we try to take the pressure away and say that we can do the recordings later or in six months time if we can’t nail the songs at that moment. But usually that doesn’t happen and we don’t let it happen. We prefer working day and night for a satisfying result.”
That DIY spirit endures from the band members‘ punk roots, and is maintained despite their signing to one of metal’s biggest labels. Nuclear Blast have been supportive, though, Sakarya tells us: “I don’t think about it quite as cut and dried as [maintaining a DIY spirit], we just function like that. If you wanna get something done then the fastest way is still to do it yourself. We just don’t wanna change ourselves. But that’s the lucky thing with our label, we do our thing and they support us in every possible way. The other good thing about them is the infrastructure. They make sure that our records are available all over the world and people don’t complain about high shipping costs anymore.”
The band’s dedicated approach has allowed them to maintain their edge, regardless of who they’re signed to, but with metal fans it‘s almost certain that it will have turned away some of the underground devotees. “We are from the underground and are a DIY band that still takes care of so many things by ourselves – as much as we can,” Erinç says. “It’s not that we‘re bored of being underground, but some expectations don’t go along with being in a band like ours. You can‘t play 200 shows a year in tiny clubs for five bucks and bring out a new record every twelve months and have a regular job to pay your rent… or at least maybe we are too old for that. So we got a non-underground label that supports us.”
Good thing too – it’d be doing the metal scene a disservice to let a band with such a knack for fiery mayhem kick around in the underground indefinitely. Mantar may not be reinventing the wheel, but sometimes there’s ingenuity in simplicity.
Words: George Parr