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Manatark history and Chaos Engine

Hi Kaido, Alex from "The Metal Observer" here, how's it going in the MANATARK legions?
Pretty ok, busy answering interviews and writing new material, rehearsing hard for the coming shows and at the same time feeling that the Spring is making my blood flow faster and faster!

As most of our readers most probably never have heard of MANATARK before, could you give us a brief history of how it all began?
The roots of the band go back to about 1996, when I gathered my first ideas for my own solo project, but officially I mark the start to 1998, when the first demo was released. I remember being inspired by a demo written by a friend in Tharaphita (I later joined the band), and the atmosphere and my own taste was right for the project. That's how it started, all great things have a humble beginning!

What does the name MANATARK mean?
It is something like a "shaman" in Estonian folklore. Mana comes from words like "Maan-ala" (beneath the ground) and from there on "Manala" (realm of the dead). Tark on the other hand means "wise" and that is directly a community healer / wiseman. There were different types of Tark's, some gathered their knowledge from various forces of nature, but Manatark was most respected and feared of them all, as he gathered knowledge from the realm of the dead.

"Chaos Engine" is your second full album (on CD) and the first one with an English title. Why did you go away from the Estonian ones?
The previous albums concentrated on the Estonian mythology, paganism and the roots of my very soul and obviously Estonian was the right language to describe these thoughts and feelings. Now I have shifted my focus a little bit, speaking about the Beast in Man, and since I am fluent with English, it seemed like the best choice to use for those themes. This does in no way mean, that there will not be any album in Estonian again, everything in due time ;)!

"Devilchant" is pretty different from the rest of "Chaos Engine", a lot slower and darker and more hymnic, what led to this song being so very different than the others?
The song was born from just one riff, the psychedelic background that you are hearing in the verses. I had no intention to write a slow song, it just happened as it is. I consider it a very special song lyricswise as well, it portrayes you the ultimate and honest enjoyment of being lost between the claws of your inner Beast - "you see, I no longer fake, I've lost all desire to escape"!

What are your influences? I could not really detect any obvious bands that had found their way into your sound...
I have a ton of influences starting from black metal classics like Enslaved, taking some from the early 90's death metal and ending with various non-metal artists like Nick Cave and such. Plus some dark-mooded rock bands that noone knows about. In my music I try to start with the principle of being both furious and thoughtful at the same time, being both technically intresting and easily grasped. And above all, I try to put it all together into a whirlwind of darkened feelings. I try to stay away from all styles as much as possible, but when you are using the blastbeat, then I guess you are black metal, no matter what!

How would you yourself describe the MANATARK sound to somebody, who has never heard the band before? You have one sentence!
Manatark plays blackened extreme metal with furious drumming, haunting riffs and shrill vocals, tied together with gloomy atmospheric synth-backgrounds and effects!

There is a concept behind "Chaos Engine" and a quite intriguing one on top of that, could you tell us a bit more about it, please? Maybe song by song?
"Chaos Engine" symbolizes Man as a destructive force. The main credo of the album is "we'd rather live a life and burn in hell than strive for the nothingness in heaven", i.e. if you see a forbidden fruit, then take a bite, and don't be afraid to "become as God", you have only one life to live. Each song tell a different aspect of the concept, for instance "Parallels and Parity" takes a role of an outsider who is watching how everything mediocre is thankfully destroying everything and cleansing way for the new hordes to come, "Four Walls" directly speaks of the joys of "burning with cries of joy, we bathed in suphure lakes", "We stole your Death" takes a sidestep and reveals visions of how one can enjoy dying so much that there is no death left for the rest of us (scary, huh?) and so forward!

The artwork of "Chaos Engine" is very unclichéd for a Black Metal album, what stands behind the artwork? What do you want to express with it?
The album has a rotten apple in the middle of the artistic concept, yeah I think that's pretty unclichéd, but it stands with the whole story: the forbidden fruit of good and evil is a symbolic gateway for the Rise of Man, just like Promotheus was the eyeopener for mankind by bring us fire. It enabled Man to "become as God" that was the first step of taking the leading role on Earth and some mythologies believe that this is something Man should be punished for. I say that if opening your eyes is worth punishing for, then I'd rather burn in hell than wallow in nothingness for all eternity, as a "prize"!

The booklet also is very interesting, with the lyrics printed on regular paper in between the glossy pages with the photos. Whose idea was this and how satisfied are you with the final result?
The whole concept is my idea and there were some extra ideas that didn't happen on this CD but all in all I am glad, cause that leaves me more headroom for the next album, hehe! I enjoy the contrastic layout of the sleeve and yes, I think it's a success. There will be some ultra true music lovers, who will be disappointed by the lack of inverted crosses, naked chicks and pentagrams and I'm sorry - this might not be the album for you - but I think there's more symbolic power in that artwork than in a whole pile of generic crap altogether!

If you look back at "Roosteitk" and "Viimanegi Veri" and compare them with "Chaos Engine", how do you see the evolution of MANATARK?
For me the evolution is as clear as day and as deep as night. I love all the releases! "Roosteitk" is pretty poor-sounding, but with lots of simple, good and honest ideas. The downside to this sincerity is that sometimes the production and composition gets pretty weird, but as I said, I still love it with all my heart. "Viimanegi Veri" was the first attempt to bring together psychedelic and chaotic feeling with meditating melodies, and pretty successful attempt at that! And now "Chaos Engine" is a landmark of that psychedely and chaos, a pretty remarkably aggressive and crazy album!

You have been supporting Bands like IMPALED NAZARENE, MAYHEM or BORKNAGAR before, what kind of feeling was this?
I got a warm fuzzy feeling in my stomach ;). But yea, it felt great and I am sure our co-operation will continue in the future as well. These guys are excellent on the road, none of the rockstar-shit and each such concert has been a great lesson how to do things better and better. I think we owe a great deal of gratitude to these occasions, helping us to become what we are!

You also played the Inferno Festival in Oslo, what kind of an experience was it for an Estonian band to play there?
Scary! The quality of the Norwegian scene is really good, and we felt like a really-really small band there, but I think we did great and again - that was one big lesson. Was the first time for us in Norway, so we enjoyed the whole trip and concert very much.

Are there any further live activities planned?
Of course, all the time. We're looking for a way to do a small tour in Western Europe so if there's anyone intrested in us and can help us out, let me know! At the same time we're putting new material together and doing various gigs in the local scene. Always learning, always perfecting what we do.

You had started MANATARK as a one man project in 1998, by now it is a full band. What led to the decision to complete the line-up?
One of the strengths of Manatark are non-compromising aggressive shows, and it's a bit hard for just 1 man to achieve all that on stage :). At first we performed as 3 persons with drums coming from a computer, but that sucked hard, thus a logical step to take in drums, and now, that we have really talented musicians in the band, it's a pleasure to blast like we do on every single concert!

What is it like to be a Metal musician in Estonia? Are you in any way accepted as an artist or are you like a cultural outcast of some sorts?
I guess the situation is the same as everywhere else. People accept us as musicians and artists, but at the same time they consider us some sort of freaks. That just keeps us going, gives us strength to do what we do. Too bad that it's really rare for a metal band to get some financial support from the culture side of the state (like they do in Scandinavia), but what the hell - it doesn't kill us, thus it just makes us stronger!

What is your personal favourite song of MANATARK and why?
At the moment it must be "Four Walls" because of it's hellish feeling, great riffs and brilliant message!

Are there any funny/weird stories that you could share with us that happened during the recordings for "Chaos Engine" and also in general in the MANATARK history?
Plenty of those, since we like to keep touring as fun as possible! From the studio I recall doing some vocal takes with a sore throat (I was seriously ill part of the time) and we laughed our asses of when we heard it at the monitoring room, which is nothing all that special, but in general my stomach hurts because of laughing when we step out of the tourbus…

If the music of MANATARK was an emotion, which one would it be?
Furious and aggressive enjoyment of good and evil in life, eyes blazing and lungs screaming!

Which album would you wish was yours and why?
At The Gates "With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness" - I would have an album with the coolest name ever and the greatest masterpiece and milestone in '90s metal!

Could you please give me a few words on the following: Estonia / Black Metal / MARDUK / DIMMU BORGIR / LIMP BIZKIT / Timo Tolkki
My emotions:
Estonia - love and pride
Black Metal - strength and fury
Marduk - great background aggression
Dimmu Borgir - keep the current heading
Limp Bizkit - indifference
Timo Tolkki - indifference

Estonia Metal wise is mostly known for nothing at all. Which bands are there that you would recommend to our readers (and which styles do they play)?
I think there are 4-5 very good bands that should be breaking out any moment, my recommendations are:
Loits - militant rockenrollish black metal
Horricane - morbidangelish very powerful metal with eerie synths
Tharaphita - thrashy heavy metal with a blackened feeling to it
… and all the rest. I recommend going to our website and going to the links section - in the "Estonian metal scene" section there's lots of average bands but there might also be some pearls that you might enjoy!

You hear of a whole bunch of bands in countries of the former Soviet Union that are right wing/Nazi and stuff, do you have the same problem in the Estonian scene?
Actually no, we don't. There's one hatecore band, that is openly extreme in those matters, but we don't have that "all black metal bands suddenly becoming NS" crap that you can find in countries where the nature of the people makes all sorts of extremes even more extreme. I say "dudes, f*cking music for the f*cking sake of f*cking music only!!!"

To close the interview, my traditional last question: What is your favourite question about MANATARK that you haven't been asked yet, but would finally like to answer?
"When did you lose your Grace?"

Thanks for the interview, I hope reading this wasn't a waste of anyone's time, so stay tuned to the "Chaos Engine", visit our website for latest information and we hope to see you all in the moshpit as soon as possible! Stay metal and take care!

Author: Alex Melzer
Zine: Metal Observer

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