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DATE OF INTERVIEW: 21st August 2018
Nearly eight years after the release of their seventh studio album, 'Safe', 2018 has seen the return of Denmark's Manticora with a brand new studio album, 'To Kill to Live to Kill'. The first installment of a planned two part album concept, based on frontman Lars Larsen's recently published horror novel of the same name, it's an innovatively exhilarating, frenzied metal assault. Over the course of 70+ minutes of new music, that's generally been crafted within the thrash-power-prog realm, there's an epic, narrative feel to it all and a kind of controlled chaos that sees the band marry concept with music to utter perfection. Metal Discovery quizzed Lars about this new beast of a record...
METAL DISCOVERY: So then, 2018 has seen the first new Manticora album for eight years, with ‘To Kill to Live to Kill’. What led to such a long gap between releases, as the band had previously been pretty prolific, with seven full length releases over an eleven year period?
LARS: Yeah, we kind of worked and worked without looking back for those eleven years. After we released our last album, ‘Safe’, in 2010, and headed out on European tour afterwards, we played some festival shows (Wacken, PPM, etc) and began getting ready for maybe a coming album or tour, when Kristian's wife was diagnosed with cancer. She passed away shortly after and then a lot of turmoil went on in the band. Both Kasper (bass) and Martin (guitars) left, and I lost my dad, my aunt and my uncle within 2 years. On top of this, I broke my throat (the cartilage in front of the vocal chords - the whole thing you can move to the left and right on the front of your throat) in a football training session, so that took a bit more than 3 months to come back from (where I actually had to learn how to talk properly again).
(Lars Larsen on new album, 'To Kill to Live to Kill')
"...it was important that people grasp that this is a thriller/horror concept, and it's my hope that even the ones who haven't read the book, but who listen to the music, get that eerie feeling of something being wrong around here..."
Manticora - promo shot
Interview by Mark Holmes
Photograph copyright © 2018 - uncredited
Thanks to Andy Turner for offering and arranging the interview
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We tried to put the band back on track with the 2 new members (Stefan, guitars, and Sebastian, bass) with a new European tour in 2014, but since we didn't have a new product to offer, it didn't really go that well. After the tour, Mads (drums) stopped and we had to sit down and make a decision, if this was the final straw for the band or if we wanted to continue. So Kristian and I sat down in his garden, got drunk and discussed, talked and made a decision that we'd write something bigger than ever before, but on OUR terms - meaning that we'd write music for ourselves and not have any record label, deadline, fan-craving or anything else in mind. We'd do it in our pace and release the album whenever we wanted to. I told Kristian about the book that I was writing, and when we asked the other 2 guys in the band about it all, they agreed that this was the plan to follow.
Moreover, Kristian has also lost both his mom and dad in the last couple of years, so the writing process had been set back, mentally, a couple of times....time heals all wounds, as they say, but it does take some time, after all...and Stefan was run down by a car back in December, when we were about to record the album. His tibialis was fractured into 8 pieces, so he had to spend a month, lying down, and ….well, there's just been a lot of shit that caused for delays.
MD: By leaving such a long gap and breaking the momentum, was it ever a worry that people would lose interest in Manticora? Or do you think it only serves to build the anticipation for a new album? Eight years of anticipation!
LARS: With the die-hard fans, it's building momentum - to the degree that they have all been informed through social media that things would take time and that we were writing stuff that had a little more substance than your usual semi-annual album with one good video track and 10 fillers, where the fans are beginning to request new material after 3 months (80% of all releases today, that is).
We might have lost the communication to some of the previous fans, but if you decide to not be a fan of a band anymore, because they take a long time, making an album (in this case a 321 page novel and a double concept album), then you probably weren't a fan to begin with. One word: Tool....:-)
The whole agenda in Manticora is that we're making music for ourselves, and if the press and the fans like it, it's all cool. If they don't and we end up selling only 50 copies of the album, then we're still happy about what we have created, so we're not that focused on pleasing fans and people all the time. We do what we do, and if people like it, they buy our stuff and attend our shows. And if they are fans, they will wait….coz they don't have a choice….Comme ci, comme ca...:-)
MD: There seems to be something strange, or merely coincidental, about the number eight with the release of this new one. Eighth album, after an eight year gap, released in 2018. Some kind of numerology thing going on there?
LARS: Hehehehehe…..absolutely none. It's pure coincidence.
MD: The album’s concept is based on the horror novel that you wrote, so what’s the gist of the story?
LARS: Back in 1999, I was attacked by 3 assholes, for no apparent reason and I broke my chin-bone and nose I have had some mental issues for 10 years, waking up, bathed in sweat, grinding teeth, muscles all flexed, etc, etc. I didn't get any help from either the police or from the doctor, so at some point a guy told me to try and write down my frustrations as it sometimes helps. I did… began writing down how I'd kill these 3 fuckheads in my fictional horror-cellar (or is it fictional??? You never know), and after some random scribblings for around a year, it suddenly began taking form, as another story came to mind (about a hitman), and when I got the idea of the Katana-stories, the book was a reality. So it's 3 stories, made into 1.
MD: Was it always envisaged at the point of writing the novel that it would provide the basis of the new album’s concept?
LARS: No, not really, but it was just a matter of us deciding to move on with the band at the same time as I was beginning to get some structure into the story of the book, so we might as well do something completely extraordinary and out of the box. And so it was..:-)
MD: Why was it decided to open the album with Tchaikovsky’s ‘Piano Concerto 1 - B Flat Minor’. It almost feels like the calm before the storm… was that the intention?
LARS: In one of the chapters, the killer (me?) is walking around in his cellar, preparing to molest, torture and mutilate the victim, lying ready, naked on the steel table. Tchaikovsky is playing in the background…...so it was an obvious choice.
MD: A lot of the songs have passages of music that feel like a full-on, frenzied metal assault, but in a very structured way, of course. Were you aiming for a controlled chaos kind of feeling?
LARS: Nah, not really. We're never aiming at anything, when we're writing. We're just writing riffs, en masse, and whatever we feel fits together, we'll put together and build bridges in between the riffs (so it's not just lego-bricks with no glue). What is important in our writing is that we all like what we hear - we try out multiple combinations with both slow drums, fast drums, mid-tempo drums, staccato guitars, slow, melodic guitars and so on. This gives us the best picture of what the song could be like. I simply think that the full-on frenzied metal assault is our style in the band.
MD: I can hear some Nevermore influences within the new songs. In particular, some of the vocal phrasing reminds me of the late, great Warrel Dane. An influence, at all?
LARS: That's a good spotting. I am a HUGE fan of Warrel Dane (may his soul rest in peace) and the rest of the guys in the band like Nevermore, as well. It's not like I want to copy Warrel, coz I don't have the same strong voice and his talent for odd choir voices (which was his astonishing trademark, if you ask me), but I guess you can't liberate yourself from the fact that some people just have an influence on you. Same with Bruce Dickinson, Russell Allen and Erik A.K. (and trust me, when I say there'll be a 3 second complete tribute to Warrel Dane on the second part of the album..:-)
MD: The vocals, along with the music, have a real sense of drama; it feels like narrative-based metal. Did you work hard at achieving this kind of vibe, seeing as it’s all based on a novel?
LARS: Yeah, it was important that people grasp that this is a thriller/horror concept, and it's my hope that even the ones who haven't read the book, but who listen to the music, get that eerie feeling of something being wrong around here, the evil way…..The voice is a perfect instrument for creating that kind of eerie feeling. This is also the reason that we have incorporated the growling parts, which Sebastian is taking care of. It helps to underline the aggression of the main character, and his lust for revenge.
MD: It’s been said that this is the first instalment of a two album concept, based on the novel. So, can we expect instalment number two to appear next year? Has much music already been composed for the next one?
LARS: Yep, the second part is planned to be released next year. We've written more or less all music, so it's only fine-tuning, soloing and some vocal parts that need to be added. Then we have a complete demo, which then goes into the grinder and a re-arranging stage....then on to the recordings, and so on.
MD: The Manticora lineup’s changed between albums, so what led to the departure of drummer Mads Volf, bassist Kasper Gram and guitarist Martin Arendal?
LARS: I think I got through it in the first part of the intie, but we had a hard time creating music together (some of the band members were like oil and water in the rehearsal room) and, at some point, it just leads to a division of the unity. We're still talking to each other outside of the band and drink beer together whenever we meet but, musically, it just didn't function anymore within the band.
Mads' departure was simply a matter of him refusing to keep putting money into a band that had released 7 albums. I understand his decision to the full. It doesn't make sense that a guy, pumping gas at a gasoline station gets paid for his work, but a musician has to pay to get his music out to the fans. Sadly, it's the harsh reality these days.
MD: How much of an influence have the new members, bassist Sebastian Andersen and guitarist Stefan Johansson, had on the evolving sound of Manticora’s music?
LARS: This one's easy to answer: 25% each…..more or less. They are fulltime members of the band and have as much of a voice, as do Kristian and I. The best riffs win, and no one's getting offended if his riff is overruled by a superior riff from one of the others. It's quite simply because we consider the good of the music of the band over anyone's ego Egos are for guys like Yngwie Malmsteen and Richie Blackmore.
MD: You used a session drummer for the album, with the mightily talented Lawrence Dinamarca from Loch Vostok. Did he bring everything to the album, drumming-wise, that you hoped he would? And will you be looking to recruit a permanent drummer soon?
LARS: Lawrence added around 10% to the album, so it was a revelation to us, even if I already knew what he was capable of (I am his manager, as I manage Loch Vostok - his main band - on Intromental - my agency). We had programmed all of the drums on Easy Drummer, and we'd done some pretty impossible stuff, but he just fucking played through it, like it was a 4/4 beat in 120 bpm. He's absolutely a monster on those drums. He played a 300 bpm blast-beat with ONE hand in the studio!!! Both Jacob Hansen and the studio technician were laughing in disbelief when he did this. So yes, he played most of what we had created, but added stuff as well.
MD: Manticora have hopped between various labels over the years, so how did the latest deal come about, with Vicisolum Records?
LARS: Yeah, we've had some funny labels in the past - none mentioned, none forgotten. I knew Thomas from ViciSolum, since he already has both Persefone, Loch Vostok and Subterranean Masquerade (all 3 bands are part of the Intromental roster) signed to the label, so when we were both on the previous Persefone European tour in 2017, we spoke about Manticora and I asked him if he was interested in the demo. I told him about the plans for the book and the concept, and he was interested. I sent him the demo, and he signed us. No bullshit, and the most fair album deal I have ever seen in the business.
MD: You have a US tour coming up soon, with the incredible Persefone, but can fans expect some European shows later in the year? A return to the UK, perhaps?
LARS: Yep! Being booked as this is written….I expect to pop the news of the EU dates sometime in September, when we return from North America. UK is on the map.
MD: Finally, what novel would you like to see transformed into a metal album, and by what band?
LARS: None - since it's already been done now….hahahahaha (or maybe The Koran - interpreted by a band from the Middle-East - that would cause for an uproar..:-) Seeya in the UK on tour..:-)