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Interview with French black metal band Manzer

Manzer released a new album this year and it’s the band’s most mature and progressive output yet. They have formed a sound that they, by now, call it their own. Manzer‘s founder and drummer/vocalist Shaxul is quite a personality. Not only did he end up touring Asia not too long back, but he was gracious enough to let me come visit him during my brief sojourn in France last year. It gave me quite a few insights into his band and the way he works, and finally I have the honour of conducting a rather satisfying interview with one of France’s best and most hardworking bands.

live-Shaxul

Transcending Obscurity (Kunal Choksi): What can you tell us about the term ‘Pictavian black metal’? What does it mean to you? How does your origin affect the music of Manzer?

Manzer (Shaxul): Manzer plays black metal in the sense that we are inspired by the first wave from the 80’s. We added ‘Pictavian’ because it’s our identity. We come from Pictavia, a region in western France where culture and language are dying. We have direct influences from Pictavia in our lyrics. But we don’t pretend we have created a new style, of course. It’s just the simplest way to describe our music.

TO: Your band toured in India recently – how was your experience in doing so? What would be your highlight of your entire tour? Any memorable events or incidents you’d like to elaborate on?

Manzer: Indeed we played four gigs in India, and two in Nepal in December 2014. It went pretty fine and we met great people and fans. But you know, we don’t tour just for playing gigs, it is also a way to discover cultures and for sure we had a great time, really unforgettable! It’s hard to choose a particular highlight because we keep incredible memories. When it comes to gigs, I may say that the best one was in Kolkata, even though it was the smallest venue and crowd, there was really some magic in the air because the audience was captivated by our music. It helped us to play a cool set and that’s why there are more songs from Kolkata than other places on our ‘Pictavian Invasion in India and Nepal’ CD. The sound and feeling we had was simply better that night. But hey, it’s impossible not to mention the best welcome we ever had since Manzer is born: it was in Bangalore thanks to our brother Vikram from Dying Embrace. It was also cool to meet you and get our lovely tour shirts, thanx again! Nepal was a crazy experience too and for sure they have a wild crowd! When it comes to cultural moments, it’s impossible to choose, maybe I could mention Durbar Square in Kathmandu because we saw it just some weeks before the huge earthquakes… And the Himalayan mountains leave you speechless… In India, we enjoyed the Elephanta caves in Mumbai, the Tipu Sultan’s fort in Bangalore, our trip in Mysore, the British cemetery in Kolkata, our various Indian cuisine tours and experiences. As for incidents, we prefer to forget about them and keep the best memories, but well, there are always some incidents, nothing can be absolutely perfect, you know, that’s life!

Manzer-BeyondtheIronPortal

TO: When I was in France and met you, you told me about the ‘Pictavian donkey’ being your mascot. It’s fricking cool, as usually it’s a goat or something. How did you come up with the idea? 

Manzer: Yes, we chose this donkey as a mascot, we do respect the image of the goat but it’s so overused nowadays, we wanted a mascot to symbolize our identity. This donkey with long hair comes from Pictavia exclusively and it almost disappeared, now it’s protected. It’s like Pictavian culture, you know, it’s endangered… So it’s perfect for us. To have a mascot is an inspiration from one of our favourite bands, Iron Maiden. Ebalus is like our Eddie! I came up with this idea and I remember that the other guys thought I was joking when I told them about that hahaha… Now we know that everybody can identify MANZER thanks to Ebalus, our mascot!

TO: You also run the respected underground label Armee de la Mort/Legion of Death. Manzer, your own band, is signed to your own label. Can you explain, for the sake of the understanding of others, how you function and how does it help for your band to be on your own label. While you’re at it, feel free to tell us about your preference of formats and why. 

Manzer: Well, I don’t want to show some lack of respect towards other labels, and I mean the ones with which we already collaborated, but there are always troubles and delays.  You know how the saying goes: “if you want something done right, do it yourself”. And that’s what I do hehe. We do what we want when we want, simple as that. My label has been created 15 years ago and it allows me to distribute Manzer stuffs worldwide thanks to all my contacts. With Manzer, we have no favourite format, even though we love to release 7″EP’s. I love vinyl records and I released this format only at first, on Legion of Death Records. Now I also release CDs which is a good format too, only hipsters hate it. OK, vinyl is cool because such releases are immediate collector’s items, these records look and sound great. But CD is also very convenient, cheap (vinyl costs an arm and a leg), easy to distribute and promote… That’s why I also release a lot of CDs for some years. I love tapes as well and I always distribute some in my shop but I don’t release this format myself, it became difficult and expensive to do so.

TO: There’s no ‘Bandcamp’ page for your labels or bands. Is there a reason why you’re deliberately not exploring the digital downloads route? From experience, more and more people are turning to that method, and feel obligated to pay for an album they like as opposed to stealing it like most others.

Manzer: We believe in the old school and we think it’s useless to use such networks. Everybody’s using that, so what? More and more people convert to Islam, so should we convert too? Just because a great number of people do it? Of course not. It’s true that Bandcamp is dedicated to music mainly, that is not the case with Facebook which is about gossip, degenerate infos and so on. But if you think that creating a Bandcamp page will avoid people downloading our records illegally, then you are definitely naive hehe, sorry to say. Our music is made for metal maniaks that respect the hard metal traditions, so we know that they will buy the records. There’s nothing we can do against people stealing/downloading music, we don’t really care anyway, those people will never understand our approach. There are also people who download music and they buy it if they like it, that’s cool, but those who have only files in their computer and pretend to be “metal fans”, well, they’re parasites. Anyway, back to Bandcamp, I know some people are ready to pay to download your songs legally but we prefer to see them buying our releases instead. And I think it’s a shame to give some bucks for files, a shame for the band that is ready to do that just for some bucks, and a shame for the guy who prefers to get files instead of a record. By using a “normal” website, we keep our coherence and integrity which are important notions in Manzer. We don’t give lessons to anybody, everybody is free to do what they want, but it’s our path. We give our priority to our songs and not to technological madness.

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TO: What do you like the most about France? Contrary to what some people say, I found the people there to be actually very friendly and helpful, even understanding when they realized that we don’t speak French. Most of all, the food and wine (this too, haha) was excellent. 

Manzer: All I can say is that you were very lucky haha! Most French people are known for being rude, impolite, and it’s so rare to find one able to speak English or any other language. You know that we travelled a lot in Asia, and sometimes we met some tourist groups made of French people, and that was really embarrassing because their attitude is awful, they treat people like pieces of shit or slaves. They always complain about something. That’s why I say you were lucky hehe. But I guess such people exist everywhere, it’s just that France is famous for that. And yeah, France is famous for its food and wine, it’s true that they’re awesome! We call it “terroir” in French language, thus the song Terroir Squad on our first album (a word play with “Terror Squad”). This is also something we love to discover in other countries.

TO: The way you organize things, even plan your trips/shows (right down to the minutest detail) is absolutely admirable (and enviable). How do you pull it off? How do you plan for all of this? Does doing this for a living make you more careful with your finances or is it a habit that you’ve cultivated (we all need to learn from you)? 

Manzer: I believe you really need to be organized if you want to enjoy your trip. Otherwise you may miss things to see or do. And you know, we invest a lot of money in our tours abroad. So we want to get the best out of every hour we spend there. Thus our schedules are always tight as a virgin’s pussy hehe. We don’t want to lose time and money! We are our own bosses, it feels like a privilege as it allows us to have more free time for the band compared to people working for some company or factory, but it also means we don’t earn a lot of money, we must be very careful with that. To plan everything is not an easy task but in general we get the help of a friend who supports the band since day one. She takes care of finding the best and cheapest flights, book interesting cultural tours, etc. I take care of the technical parts of our gigs, that’s thanks to my contacts we can tour like this, and I directly deal with friends that are ready to help us. So it’s also about brotherhood but it’s never as easy as it seems! My advice is to plan everything a long time in advance and when the time has come to leave for your tour/trip, everything will (almost) run like clockwork!

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TO: Your new album ‘Beyond the Iron Portal’ is much more intricate and I daresay ‘polished’ (in a good way) in comparison to your early material. What were your thoughts when coming up with music for your latest one? How can you explain the admirable evolution in sound? 

Manzer: I see what you mean. The fact is that we don’t record in the same studio, now we go to “Le Caveau Studio” run by our old friend Fog who also plays in many underground bands. He’s able to make some old school sound that we need.When it comes to the music, the main difference is that we have Hylde as a guitar player and his style is much more Rock’n’Roll, especially when it comes to the solos. Even if I or Fëarann write a song, we can plan some parts with that in mind, and it works well I think, at least we’re really satisfied with this new album! But you know, we feel it’s still 666% Manzer, we have the same influences.

TO: Can you tell us about the significance of your artworks? Your latest one, as well as your previous (debut) full length ‘Light of the Wreckers’ both had your mascot on them. Is there a particular theme or concept you’re trying to explore? Speaking of which, what are your thoughts on coming up with a ‘concept album’?

Manzer: Beyond the Iron Portal is a song about strange things that were happening in some secret underground passages and caves. The cover art shows an entrance, a portal to one of those passages. It has details like the black dogs which were sometimes guarding the portal. The story behind our first album cover is that there were wreckers on our coasts, let’s say pirates that drew ships on the reefs to steal their treasures. They hanged a light around a donkey’s neck so ships thought it was a lighthouse. And we use a donkey as a mascot as we already said. Anyway, the donkey being linked with the stories about the wreckers, we thought it would fit perfectly. Actually, I wrote Light of the Wreckers as I’m fascinated by strange stories about the sea. I’m especially a worshipper of Iron Maiden songs like Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Ghost of the Navigator or The Talisman. As we also have sea stories in Pictavia, I wanted Manzer to have its own “sea song” so to speak. As for a concept album, why not, it may happen one day but I think it’s too early.

TO: What are your influences? Also, what have you been listening to regularly these days? Are there any new acts that have impressed you? 

Manzer: Our influences are Venom, Sabbat, Motorhead, Iron Maiden, NWOBHM, Bathory, Jan Do Fiao, Abigail, Killers, Atomizer, Carnivore, NME, Bulldozer, Impaled Nazarene. These days I’m listening to Wifebeater – ‘Misogynist’, Stille Volk – ‘La Pèira Negra’, Witchburner – ‘Blood of Witches’, Impaled Nazarene – ‘Vigorous and Liberating Death’, Seol – ‘Whisper of the Nocturnal Wind’, Speed Night ‘El Mago’, Motorhead – ‘Sacrifice’… I’ve been impressed by Speed Night and Wifebeater in particular when it comes to newer stuffs I got in stock.

TO: Is it important to you that your band members listen to the same kind of music that is to be created? How do you go about the songwriting process? How often do you guys jam?

Manzer: Of course this is important. It would be impossible to play with guys that are not into what they’re playing! That would be a nonsense. We write songs alternately. For example, when someone has a new song, he records a raw version of it at home and send it to the others, then we work on it at our rehearsals. When the music has a good shape, then I write the lyrics. We rehearse once a week.

Manzer2

TO: Do you think “old school” metal will eventually lose its relevance what with the ever-increasing crop of bands that are coming up playing modern metal music?

Manzer: Metal the ancient way is still going strong. But it’s true that metal became something popular and every moron now claims to find metal to be cool. The result is that there’s a gap between the underground and the mainstream. It’s hard to survive in the underground but it’s still alive and I will remain there as long as possible. Trends come and go but authentic and traditional metal is still there so there’s not reason why it should be obsolete, only young hipsters can think this way. And we don’t give a flying fukk about such people, they don’t belong to our world.

TO: What are Manzer’s future plans? What’s coming up next?

Manzer: We have quite a lot of gigs planned, and we hope to tour Japan next year. When it comes to releases, we’ll work on new songs for a split 7″EP with our brothers from Orator (Bangladesh). The Manzer / Hexecutor 10″MLP should be out in March and the LP version of our new album should be out during the summer, I hope. A tape version of the album should be out soon on Inferno Records as well.

TO: Any words of advice to the upcoming bands and metal fans from someone who’s worked his way up in a commendable fashion?

Manzer: Sorry, I’m no teacher nor sermonizer hehe… I just think that people who pretend to be into metal should support the underground as much as they can. The fact is that today, many people think that reading a webzine and downloading many albums is “metal”.  Metal is mere entertainment for them. Well, I’ve discovered the way of the real metal spirit by myself, it takes time but some people should do it this way too and if they fail, well, fukk them.

TO: Thank you again for your great attitude, integrity, passion and lastly, on a personal level, your hospitality. Last words are yours. Hail Pictavian black metal!

Manzer: With pleasure, mate! Thanx and cheers to you! To the others: support the underground or fukk off!!! See you maniaks on the road!!!

Contacts:

E-mail : shaxul@orange.fr

LEGION OF DEATH / ARMEE DE LA MORT Records : www.legionofdeathrecords.com

Snail Mail : LOD Records / BP 21 / 86210 Bonneuil-Matours / France.

MANZER Pictavian Black Metal: www.manzer.fr

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