This interview with Cernunnus of Manes features questions by U. Amtey
I first became interested in Manes because of the excellent material that is on the 'Maanens Natt' (1993) and 'Ned I Stillheten' (1994) demo tapes (later released by Hammerheart on CD), which speaks directly to me and to my ideas of what black metal SHOULD be like, and I directly endeavored to find out as much as I could about your band...but as I'm sure many other people have realized, there is actually very little information on your band's history available to the listening public, and your band's progress, after all these years, is still shrouded in a cloud of mystery. First coming into the scene almost eight or nine years ago, you then disappeared for quite some time until the release of your latest work. Can you clear this up once and for all?
Well, quite a lot of things happened, but the main reason was my disease. It's called 'Colitis Ulcerosa' and is a permanent infection in the (what is it called in english?), bowels/intestines, the guts. It kind of went out of control, and I had to remove all of it... So, a couple of years passed before things healed. In the meanwhile, the bm scene had become something totally different, I didn't like it at all... Black metal bands were going commercial, started to appear regularly in the media, etc, etc... I didn't like it at all, so I avoided it all for a while. But I was still deeply fascinated by the emotions and moods in black metal, so after a while we recorded a new tape, which wasn't meant to be spread around at all... Somehow Hammerheart got a copy of this tape, and offered (us) a deal...
Please give us a short description of Manes' history and its place in the ever-burgeoning Norwegian black metal scene.
Formed before the black metal explosion, kept alive through anti-commercialism and by ideology, only two members: Cernunnus & Sargatanas
Also, would it be possible to translate the titles of your releases into English for those of us who don't speak Norwegian?
Ok, some of the titles I remember right now: under ein blodraud maane = under a bloodred moon, ned i stillheten = down into the silence, uten liv ligger landet ude = without life the land lies desolate, min trone stÝr til evig tid = my throne stands forever, maanens natt = the night of the moon, de murke makters dyp = the depth of the dark forces, til kongens grad de dude vandrer = to the king's grave the dead wanders, etc, etc
Because of the obvious obscuring of your history, the thoughts behind your music, the identity of the band's members, etc. that I saw every time I tried to discover anything about Manes, I was wondering: how much of this obscurity was due to your efforts?
Sometimes all of it, sometimes nothing at all.. Obscurity and mysticism, the unknown has always fascinated me, and, well, Bathory influenced us a lot here... But people have taken it a lot further than we did ourselves, and we haven't done anything to stop it either. I like it this way.
Do you feel that black metal bands, or Manes specifically, should not offer too much information to their audience in order to increase the sense of 'mystery' around the music?
Nah, hmm, depends. Everything must fit together as a package. The band's music, artwork, images, sound/production, and also publicity. I wouldn't believe (in) a band that claims to be totally misanthropic, but is featured in tons (of) magazines and publications, doing really weird things to get publicity, or wanting to be friends with everybody.
This is an old tradition, going all the way back to Venom and Bathory, I believe: the use of pseudonyms, the lack of information on 'official' releases, the difficulty which people have in gathering information about the band, etc. So tell me: if this IS true, and a deliberate thing on your part, in what way does the release of the music satisfy you?
Earlier I always said that I recorded music solely for myself, and not for anybody else at all. But I have experienced that I really enjoy hearing people telling me that they like the stuff I release. Which means they have experienced the moods and atmospheres I have tried to bring across...
Is it just satisfying knowing that someone, somewhere, is listening to your music and probably enjoys it?
Yes, in a way. Then I know they somehow think and feel like me.
Is it possible to maintain the satisfaction of writing music just based on the fact that you write it for yourselves, and do not look to the outside world for understanding?
Yes it is, or I would like to think so.
Or are all the attempts at creating 'obscurity' just another image-conscious marketing ploy? Why is there this obsession with 'obscurity' among black metal bands?
Most of it is purely an image, a way to attract interest.
Finishing with the above question, you have given the black metal scene two excellent examples of deliberate obscurity (two of the finest examples ever, I believe) with the covers to your first two releases. The cover for your 'Under Ein Blodred Mane' release is something of a departure for you in that it actually includes colors other than black and white - why the change?
A very easy answer: Because I felt like doing it... I'm not that concerned about current trends, or what is expected from me/us. I do things the way I feel like, whatever it is... If other people like it, then great! If not, no loss..
The first two Manes demo releases
Was it just a coincidence or some accident that the artwork associated with your band was black and white up to this point?
No, it was intended. They suited the music, the sound, and especially the unknown and obscure feeling of those tapes. I found those pictures in some collection of short mystery stories I have, and basically cut some parts of them out of the book and pasted them right onto the covers...
Did this color scheme reflect some change in your aesthetics?
Not intentionally, at least not there and then. Now when I think of it, it kind of suited to have a somewhat different cover, to mark the somewhat different sound and format (CD vs. tape), etc, etc.. When it was time to look around for a cover for the debut CD, I talked to Monika (from Atrox), and looked through her sketches, I saw this (The U.E.B.M cover), and liked it a lot... The cover didn't turn out too good, as the original is extremely much more moody and atmospheric. The colors turned out far too 'cartoonish', too much contrast, too much of everything. The original has a lot more subtle variations. Also, you get a much more intense feeling of blood and fire in the original.
The third release, 'Under Ein Blodraud Maane'.
Also, referring to the covers of the first two demo releases: what exactly is the cover of 'Ned I Stillheten' supposed to be? It is completely abstract to me, but I know that is taken from a larger picture, as the rider from the cover of 'Maanens Natt' is. Would you care to elaborate?
Hehe, the Ned I Stillheten cover shows a tiny part of a knight on a horse, he has a lance in his hand, and the moon shines through dark clouds. As you can see, I used a very small part of it.
I know that there are two principal people involved in Manes: Cernunnos and Sargatanas. Have there ever been any others involved in the musical or recording process?
There has been a few more people involved, but not seriously. Back in 92/93, we had a couple of rehearsals with a few more people. But it didn't turn out too good, as this traditional band, rehearsal, live, line-up, concept didn't suit us too much...
Were the first two demo tapes/CDs recorded in a home-studio?
They were recorded on my own (now broken) 4-track tape recorder, vocals were done in Atrox' rehearsal place in a few hours...
The name Cernunnos refers to the Celtic 'lord of the underworld', I believe, but what exactly does 'Sargatanas' mean?
Yes, Cernunnus is based on Celtic mythology. I can't remember where we found the Sargatanas name, but I think it was/is one of the generals of hell in some way or another...
I confess my ignorance when it comes to occult references, but if 'Sargatanas' is a purely new name, invented by you, it has a very legitimate ring to it - referring to other occult deities, almost by association. Who, now, is involved in Manes?
It is still mainly Me, with additional vocals by Sargatanas... but we have worked with some different people lately. Time will tell what will come out of it.
Are there plans to include any other musicians in the future? Have any of the people in Manes ever worked with other projects or bands?
We have actually rehearsed on a regular basis lately, just until now, since we again lost the rehearsal place... We have/had a complete line-up, consisting of: Sargatanas: vocals, Cernunnus: guitars, Eivind (Atrox): guitars, Krell (Bloodthorn): bass, Knarr (ex-Bloodthorn): drums, and Pilsen (The 3rd And The Mortal): synth... But, since we don't have any place to rehearse anymore, I have kind of laid the line-up version of Manes on ice, and continued as before, but, with a lot of new ideas... So, we will see... All of the members in Manes, both previous and present have been involved in a lot of other bands...
What first attracted you to black metal?
The trance-like atmospheres and moods. The mysterious and obscure feeling when listening to it. Nothing more, nothing less.
Why do you compose music in this vein and not another?
Who says I compose only black metal? BM is just a tiny bit of what I listen to, enjoy, or even create. I like music from all kinds of genres and styles, as long as the music contains anything I like, such as atmosphere or mood.
Do you feel that there are still places in black metal that have not been touched by the thousands of bands over the past ten years - that there is still room for innovation and originality?
Yes I do!!! BM is one of the most narrow-minded and anti-experimental genres I know of... and it seems like people don't dare to experiment, and also, they're afraid of doing what they really feel like doing - perhaps bm people are afraid of not being accepted? Truly misanthropic, or what? Fuck.
Why do you think there was such a large explosion in the number of Norwegian, or Scandinavian, black metal bands? What is it about this music that the Norwegians find so fascinating?
People realized they could get famous (at least in pseudo-bm circles) by playing or preaching bm... They were fascinated by all the media attraction (you should have experienced it - it was fuckin' insane!!!).
Can you tell me a little about the inspiration for the music on the first two demo releases? I know that they are a bit dated now, and your recollection may not be exactly clear, but tell me: what are the direct inspirations for Manes' music?
I don't know... Obviously inspired by the bands I listened to back then, like a lot of the earlier demo stuff, the early, black metal UNDERGROUND.
Why compose music that is so overwhelmingly dark and obscure (I know you could probably write on this open-ended subject for days, and this is a stupid question, but I am curious to hear your reaction), why write music that is so evocative of hatred, misanthropy, and despair?
Easy - because that's how I feel... it's impossible to write this (kind of) music when you're in a good and relaxed mood... Things have to be very DOWN, really claustrophobic, desperate, like a last scream before committing suicide...
How does your own music make YOU feel? What would you like your listeners to feel?
Most of the music makes me feel the way I felt when I created the stuff, things are coming back... And I hope people could feel some of the apathy, despair and hatred.
Have there been any other bands that you found personally inspirational? Artwork, literature?
Not music, musically... Some bands, like Thorns, the first couple of Burzum albums, Darkthrone (Necrohell period), some old doom bands, a lot of stuff really, or, it's more like the combination of everything. Art and Literature: Giger for sure!!! Bosch, Bruegel, painters from 14-15-1600.. Lovecraft and Poe manages at times to express fear quite well...
Will the lyrics to your songs ever be released - especially the lines behind the 'spoken word' passages in your early music?
I don't think so... Those songs have done their mission now... And I don't have them written down anymore... The spoken lyrics are mostly Latin, but also some Norwegian... Pretty useless for non-Norwegians, or what?
How exactly did you come to the attention of Hammerheart records?
I all of a sudden got a proposal from them. Like: Would you release some albums on Hammerheart? I was surprised, and started to consider it, and, ok, why not? That's it, really...
Whose decision was it to re-release your demo recordings on CD? Do you know how well these CDs have sold?
Avantgarde records, actually... They asked if they could re-release them, (and they were) originally meant to be on vinyl, but as I had signed with Hammerheart, I told them that, no, those songs should become the basis of the debut album.. But they still asked, and asked... So, I spoke with Hammerheart about it, and they suggested that they could do it instead, since they were just starting up a sub-label "Unveiling The Wicked" just for old stuff, like demos, etc...
Has there been a resurgence of interest in your band since their release?
Yes... A lot of people were surprised - they probably thought Manes had split up a long time ago... hah!
I am glad that they did so (re-released the demo tapes), because in my opinion they can be placed among some of the finest black metal recordings ever, and the CDs perfectly capture the production sound that I prefer in black metal: raw, mysterious, obscurely evocative, etc.
Good to hear that you liked it...
Do you feel there are distinct ways to record black metal - that it should never be too clear or too obvious? Almost all of the early Norwegian recordings share this low-fi necro production, was this a deliberate move on your part or just a result of using a 4-track recorder? It really reminds me of the early 'Heavenshore' production: the sound of the first two Bathory albums...
Not really... Depends on the music, and everything else... I personally prefer necro sound on black metal, and I haven't heard a great black metal band with anything else than necro sound, so... Or, well, some bands... Mayhem's "De Mysteriis.." wasn't too necro, but still great.
In the review that I wrote of your first two demo releases, I said that I found Manes to actually be closer to doom metal than black - because of the slow unfolding of the themes, the measured pace of the rhythms, the fact that the music seeks to build a beautiful atmosphere and not just blast away at light-speed, etc. Do you listen to doom metal, or are you inspired by any bands that play extremely slow?
Yes, I listen(ed) to a lot of doom, in the early days (when) it (the music) was more doom than black...
The ringing arpeggio at the end of 'Maanens Natt' demo (over which there is that short spoken word passage) has to be one of the most beautiful riffs I have ever heard from a black metal band. Although there ARE many slow sections, or passages where the concentration is on constructing a lightless space, an infernal atmosphere, in your music, there are also bridges or break sections where you increase the speed or back up a faster riff with a corresponding increase in the drum speed...I was just curious: is it easier, or more difficult, for you to write slow music with a drum machine? I always thought it was harder, myself.
In the early days, yes! I didn't use a drum-machine. I used a PC and Tracker programs (ScreanTracker, FastTracker), and had extremely terible samples for drums. So, when I tried to make some fast songs, the drums sounded like machine guns, and I didn't like it... After I while I got some better equipment, but I still like slow music better.
Will there be a change in your music on the material you are working on right now, or will Manes continue in the same direction?
Oh yeah! There will be a change.... probably... I have most of the material finished, but some final arrangements and production is needed... The new stuff is probably more 'down' in a way, more depressive, more doomy perhaps... People that have heard some of the new songs say that it's typical Manes - very different, but you can still hear that it's Manes...
When will we see the release of the new Manes material? Will the recording process differ from the older material?
This year! As said earlier, most of the raw material is finished. I just need a bigger computer to do the last things. Then we will most probably bring all equipment into a proper studio to record some real drums and vocals, then do the final mixing there. But, it depends on how much of it can be done at home, on our own equipment. The JotunSinne Studio is slowly taking shape, and we will do most of the work there. But I want to try out real drums, to hear what it sounds like... If it turns out better, we will use that, otherwise it will be drum machines and samplers... Synth and samplers are being programmed and recorded on sequencers, just like the guitar riffs...
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