Hollenthon - Symphonic Death Machine
By: Ofir Messer & Elad Miasnikov
Interview With: Martin Schirenc, Hollenthon
One of the most known European Death Metal bands was Austria's Pungent Stench, a band which has ceased to be abruptly some two years ago. One of the guys behind this legendary band was Martin Schirenc, who also formed Hollenthon, a project that combined his love for Death Metal with symphonic music and some other melodic elements. Under that project, Martin released 2 full album in 1999 and 2001, both highly regarded by many in the metal scene, but it was in 2008 that the third and long-awaited album finally came to be. To understand what took so long for "Opus Magnum" to be released, and how this project - since transformed into a full-fledged band - was created, we spoke with Martin, who was kind enough to give us the info.
Hi Martin! It's been a while since "Opus Magnum" came out. How would you describe the response the album garnered?
The album was received very well from both the fans and the media, and our tour in October 2008 had a great turn out. All together, I'm very satisfied with the response.
Why did it take 7 years to make?
I was busy with Pungent Stench and didn't feel like doing much with Hollenthon. I also had problems with our live line-up, which caused us to take a break from concert activities, but that's fortunately solved. It's not gonna take another 7 years for the next album - promised!
Were there any song ideas that came out of the "With Vilest Of Worms To Dwell" session, or during the years with Pungent Stench?
I kept writing material for Hollenthon during the past 7 years, although the majority of the new songs have been written after the split of Pungent Stench in 2007.
It seems you had more Middle Eastern influences than before... Where did it come from?
I just love the melodies and rhythms of Middle Eastern music and I'm very interested in the culture of these countries. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to visit most of them, yet.
What made you choose to record a cover song for the famous Canadian rock group The Tea Party?
I'm a fan of this band and I wanted to do a cover with Hollenthon for quite a while, so that was a good opportunity to pay tribute to them and have a bonus track for the digi pack version of “Opus Magnum”.
I've had the chance to see you perform on Graspop and Summer Breeze festivals this summer, and I must say you manage to play very tight with all the symphonic & singing samples in the background. What does it take for you to play like that?
Practice, practice and then some more practice. Of course, having a line-up with great musicians helps as well.
How was it performing with Hollenthon after such a long time of absence from this "project"?
First I was a bit nervous, because of the new-line up and a different technical approach to play the orchestras and choirs, but it worked out pretty well, because we rehearsed a lot. Now we're very tight and it's fun to play the songs live.
What was like playing those big festivals during the summer? Any special memories?
It was just great! We got to play with bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Kiss and Slayer, amongst many others, which is the best way to spend a summer, isn't it? Of course, we also spent a lot of time with partying and drinking, so my memory is a bit blurry, but I'm sure there were quite a few funny moments...
Would you like to take it further in the future and make a special concert with a full orchestra and choir?
Not really - if I had that much money to put into a show, I'd rather invest it in a kick ass pyrotechnic show, instead.
Now that you have full time band members, will you let them participate in the music writing process in the future?
To a certain extent, yes, but the song writing will always be done by me. I'm just not playing every instrument (except for the drums) anymore and I certainly won't tell them every single note they have to play, either. It worked out very well on “Opus Magnum” and I'll continue to work this way.
Your ex-wife also sings on the albums. Why she doesn't come to perform with you?
She's not really into touring in a dirty bus together with a bunch of drunken idiots. I can't blame her!
It stated that Elena has also written the lyrics for the album. How do you work on songs together? Why don't you write as well?
After I write the music, I sing some bullshit vocals over it to give her an idea of the number of verses and choruses, then I send it to her, and she starts to write the lyrics. Sometimes we have to change a phrase later on, to make it fit better, but most of the time, she gets it right in the first place. Why I don't write? Well, I do what I do best, which is writing music, and leave the rest to the professionals. Elena is so much better in that, and I really care about the lyrical quality, too.
Now if I may delve into your memory. Pungent Stench was one of the first extreme acts to perform in Israel, back in 1992. What do you remember of that time in here?
It was simply awesome! We spent a few days in your beautiful country and got to see Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem, It was impressive to see all this historical places and walk on the tracks of the baby Jesus. You also have some of the hottest girls I've ever seen!
You have also returned in 2003... How was it different than your first visit?
It was good to be back, but unfortunately we didn't have much time. We had to leave immediately after the show, so that sucked. I hope we'll be able to play with Hollenthon in Israel, and have enough time to party with you guys!
Speaking of Pungent Stench, what was the cause of the split and what is the situation with the non-released last album?
Without going into details, we had personal and financial discrepancies, therefore I decided not to play with Alex Wank any longer. Unfortunately, we still couldn't work things out and come to an agreement so the album will probably never be released.
What made you start Hollenthon at the first place? Were you not satisfied enough with what you've been doing with Pungent Stench back then?
I started to build my own little studio in 1994 and wanted to experiment with other influences and combine them with extreme metal. That's how everything started and it wasn't even meant for the public in the beginning, let alone to be played on a stage.
Why did you choose the name Vuzem for the band when you started, and why did you change it to Hollenthon? What's the meaning behind the name?
I saw the name "Vuzem" on the back of the phonebook and it turned out it was a fashion store for leather clothes. I liked the sound, but didn't want to risk a lawsuit, so I changed it to "Hollenthon" before our first full length release. It's the name of a small village in Austria, and again I liked how it sounded. Plus, the chances that the name has been already used by another band were really slim, so I took it.
How difficult was it for you to go from creating rather simple, and much rawer death metal, to creating such elaborate symphonic one?
It was a challenge, especially using all the classical elements, but I'm good in learning new things when I'm interested in them. I have to admit that it took quite a while to study all the different instruments and how they're used in the context of a whole orchestra. Of course, I don't know how to play these instruments, but you still have to know about their key range and phrasings in order to achieve realistic sounding results. I'm still learning a lot every day, though.
You produce your own albums, what's your background as a producer, and how difficult is it producing albums of this magnitude?
I was always interested in the production and engineering side of music, so I paid much attention every time I was in the studio with Pungent Stench. Later, when I had my own studio, I also produced other bands and basically learned by doing, again. Producing your own albums is a difficult undertaking, though, because you're very biased and often not able to deliver impartial judgments - that's why many people work with producers. Then there's also the hard part of engineering and playing instruments at the same time, and last but not least, Hollenthon has a very complex sound with lots of different elements, that are often hard to combine. Still, I like to work this way, since it allows me to realize my ideas and work without time pressure.
Vienna is one of the places most known for its classical composers, was this the main influence for the symphonic part of Hollenthon? Who is your influence when it comes to classical music?
Maybe, but I probably would have done this project if I've lived in another country, too. I get my influences from many composers, but I love Prokofieff, Smetana and Mussorgski.
What are the next plans for you and Hollenthon?
I'm already working on new songs, and we might release an EP with a couple of new tracks, as well as a concert video by the end of this summer. We're also trying to get on another tour in spring and we'll play some summer festivals again. The new album won't be taking another 7 years, and I expect it to be released early next year.
Any last words for your Israeli fans and loyal subjects?
I wanna thank everybody how's supported me and my bands through all these years and I'm looking forward to return to the Holy Land, to play some shows! Meanwhile, stay safe and keep on rocking!