The world we’re living in is one gripped by fear and uncertainty. As the global pandemic continues its course and we remain confined to our homes, now, more than ever, we need to sink our psyches into the magical and transformative power of music.
Formed in Trondheim, Norway in 1992, the music of MANES has gone through many stages of transformation up until today. With a mantra of exploration and experimentation, the music is hard to define by limiting genres, but can best be described as a bastardization of rock and electronica with influences from jazz and metal. Cinematic and atmospheric with climatic builds yet oppressive and cloaked in discomforting darkness.
Hi there! I appreciate the fact that you are giving the time for this interview.
-You released a new single “Young Skeleton”. With its contemplative chords, with the constant rhythm, it feels like the soundtrack of a dream. Tell me your feelings about this new release, about the musical direction and lyrical themes. On a more basic level, how does your songwriting process generally work?
Hi Alina, thanks for this interview! I really like the “Young Skeleton” single. Apart from most singles and EPs we have done in the past, this is a totally independent stand-alone release. It is not a “preview” of any coming album or things like that. The main quality I like about the titletrack is that it always leaves me still and silent after listening through it. It sort of drains me of energy – in a good way. Even though I am very aware of what we play and how we play it, transitions and arrangements, I seem to always disconnect from that when I listen to it and drift away.
Talking about songwriting, we follow a similar formula to what has been working for us a few years now. It is rarely the traditional route, where someone shows up in the rehearsal studio with a finished song, ready to nail it down with the full band. We start with small ideas and work with them in the studio. We build it up and tear it down, follow the heart of each song until we feel it’s done. It can take years. It usually does.
-Manes music changed a lot over time. From 1999’s “Under ein blodraud maane” to the mesmerizing new album “Slow Motion Death Sequence”. What were your main inspirations when you began and what are your main influences now?
First of all, only Tor-Helge Cern Skei remains from the first “era” of Manes, which basically constitutes the three demo tapes released in 93, 94 and 95 plus the 99 debut album “Under ein blodraud maane”. From 96-97 and onwards, I guess there was a certain slow shift for him regarding inspirations, but before that I believe bands like Bathory, Mayhem, Celtic Frost etc was the main inspirations for the music created.
For us now, there is no set of bands that play out as main inspirations for the music we make. We are a “core” of four people in Manes, and whatever we like, love or listen to at the moment probably colors the music in some way. Everything from more mainstream stuff to more experimental stuff and to harsher and darker stuff.
-“Slow Motion Death Sequence” it’s an overwhelmingly expansive experience: hypnotic, multi-dimensional psychedelic music that could be a soundtrack to a trippy psychological movie. It seems that this album is a blank page where all the genres and influences melt into something exceptionally dark and majestic. Is “Slow Motion Death Sequence” structured as a concept album that revolves around the idea of death? Looks like there were quite a lot of contributors on this album. How did you get to work together?
“Slow Motion Death Sequence” is by no means a regular concept album, if that means there is a traditional red thread through the songs. There was however a kind of conceptual shadow looming over the album, dealing with death and dying. Midway through the final studio sessions, when we were working on the order of the songs, we started to see a more unintentional narrative throughout the songs. Something like a natural order manifesting. Once that emerged, we tried to enhance it and build upon it, but it was not a part of the initial idea.
As for contributors, we have a close circle of friends and collaborators around this “core” I mentioned. We have worked with them before, and will probably work with them again. Asgeir sings on most songs on “Slow Motion Death Sequence”, and he has been with us since “Vilosophe” back in 2003. Rune Folgerø sings on one song, and he also sang on a few of the songs on our previous album “Be All End All” from 2014 and has joined us live. Ana Carolina hasn’t sung on any releases before the last album, but has been joining in on several studio sessions (and sings on the “Young Skeleton” B-side as well), and Anna Murphy has been a part of Tor-Helge Cern Skei’s project Lethe for many years. She also joins us on the “Young Skeleton” B-side song “Mouth Of The Volcano”, and has mixed both the last album and this single.
-17 years ago “Vilosophe” was released. I find that record hauntingly beautiful. From there, slowly, Manes began morphing into an amorphous version of soundscapes and soul particles. It demands an open mind and an introspective nature from the listener to fully resonate with this experiment. It seems like it has no real beginning or endpoint and its completely different from the first Manes album “Under ein blodraud maane”. That album was a turning point in the band’s existence. Do you find echoes of that album in today’s band compositions? How are you feeling about this album today?
We never try to “build” from album to album, or create a distinct “sound” or something like that. If it seems like that, it is somewhat inherit or by accident. We are the same four or five people today, as we were on “Vilosophe”, so that will probably shine through in one way or another. Apart from that, no. I have read reviews saying that Manes are more back to the sound of “Vilosophe” on “Slow Motion Death Sequence”, but I really can’t hear that myself.
When it comes to “Vilosophe”, I still like it today. Some songs more than others, and maybe more because of the nostalgic vibe surrounding memories of making the album etc. It is a snapshot of the time and place when it was made. It is what it is, and that is ok.
-There are things in your head and in your psyche that are hard to access, and hard to see for yourself. On a deeper level, music is a vehicle that can shift the state of mind? Do you think Manes music has the power to alter the state of consciousness of the listener?
We have always stated (quite loudly) that we invite listener participation and immersion in our music. It isn’t supposed to be easy or clean or plain in any way. Not that it is very complex per se either; but the music, the lyrics, the cover, the titles – everything can (hopefully) activate both the brain and a spectrum of emotions. We offer no readymade “explanations” on what to understand or how to understand it.
My five cents are these: It shouldn’t be our emotions pushed onto you (the listener), but your emotions evoked by the music. At least when it comes to what we make. This is no universal law.
-Manes is more “food for thought” than a specific music genre. In this manner hence do you think that spirituality is the key element when it comes to composing new music? Or maybe the personal experience plays the main part?
Yes, both. But also a will to create music without limits beyond your own (in our case collective) taste and set of tools. The concept of genre in music has its use from a marketer/consumer/listener point of view, and that makes sense. But from a band/artist/creator point of view; why should it? It can, of course. And it can be fun and all that, but for us it has not even been a topic of discussion for the last 15 years or so. We never add jazz to a metal song or whatever. We never mix electro and prog. Nothing like that.
-Manes music is meditative, introspective, in my opinion, having psychedelic layers. How hard is for you to create something that speaks for the soul?
It is hard in the sense that we throw away a lot of material that doesn’t speak to the soul, as you say. A lot of half-finished songs is killed off, many more or less finished vocal lines is erased and redone in the process. Guitars replaced. A lot of that happens throughout the process of making an album, just to elevate – or even find – this little something something that is a spark of magic (in our own ears). That is the reason we do Manes. Each time we feel we create something like that collectively, is like a fix of dope. And it is what we want to come back to, hopefully again and again.
-The visual aspect of your music has always been important and very intriguing. On “Slow Motion Death Sequence” you choose the work of Ashkan Honarvar; on the new single, the work of the Norwegian artist Kjell Erik Kili Olsen is present. Which is the process of choosing these visual representations? Can you tell me something about the artwork?
The artwork is important for us. It is an extended part of the music. The first thing anyone hears about a new album (from us or anyone else) is the album title and the front cover. It is the first impression. And even beyond that, a beautiful album (or whatever release really) in its physical form; maybe a gatefold cover, with a poster insert and maybe even on colored vinyl… It is a part of the whole. Not in comparison to the music itself, but still.
We love Ashkan Honarvar. He is a good friend of the band and an amazing artist. I urge everyone to delve deeper into his work. His dark and twisted mind is only matched by his eloquent style and integrity. Which is rare. We have worked with him for both “Be All End All” and “Slow Motion Death Sequence”.
In regards to Kjell Erik Killi Olsen, he is an well established and renowned fine artist with an international audience. I believe his first solo exhibition was back in 1983 in New York. David Bowie was a collector of his work etc. He is from our hometown Trondheim, in Norway, and we love his work. We asked if we could use a photo of his sculpture on the front cover, and he said yes. We asked if he also could make a hand written “logo” for the cover, and he said yes. We are honored, and feel it really fits with the “Young Skeleton” single.
– What music are you currently listening to? What would you recommend for someone who loves Manes?
I see this as two quite different questions. What am I listening to these days? A lot of different stuff, so let me pick out a varied list. Hmmm…. Sumac, Gillian Welch, Årabrot, Tinariwen, Ghostpoet, Bölzer, Beak>, Austra, and The Black Heart Procession. Oh, and the couple of new Ulcerate songs from the upcoming album – fucking amazing stuff!
Among the above, I really don’t know what could appeal to Manes fans. Let’s just recommend “related” bands and projects like Atrox, Lethe, Calmcorder and Drontheim. If you like Manes, you will probably like these too. Check out the new Calmcorder video that has just been released. That is the project from Rune of Manes (and ex- 3rd And The Mortal). And also: check out the latest Atrox album “Monocle” (with viNd from Manes). It’s absolutely killer! It’ll blow you away.
-Are there any other musical projects you are involved in? Do you find the time to work with them?
At the moment I am not actively involved in any other projects. I play on the Drontheim debut album “Down below” that was released a while back, and I used to play in a death metal band called Chton. I’ve been writing lyrics for a few friends here and there, most recently for Khonsu, and earlier for Keep Of Kalessin and others, but now it’s Manes that has my full focus in regards to music.
-I think you chose to first focus on studio work and the live appearances are carefully selected. You had a magnificent show here in Romania in 2015 at Dark Bombastic Evening. There will be any upcoming live shows after this great madness end, maybe Romania will be on the list?
Thank you! We had a great time at DBE, and would love to come back to Romania. We are booked to play Brutal Assault 2020 in the Czech Republic, and also Prog Power Europe 2020 in The Netherlands, but who knows what will happen now with the corona plague raging the world.
We have little to no routine or discipline when it comes to live rehearsing and repetition, as we rarely play live. Some of us are less enthusiastic about live shows as well. But, when that is said, it can totally be a cool thing in many ways. Especially if the setting, format or location entice us. We hope to play a bit more live in the time to come, but we really do prefer a dark studio more than a big stage and a drunk crowd. I would dare to say it suits our music better too. Manes is not really “social” music.
– And some classic. overused questions: What are the future plans of Manes? When can we expect a new album?
We have just released the new single “Young Skeleton” on most digital platforms, and the limited edition 7” vinyl is still available via https://aftermathmusic.selz.com/. There you can also find a few rare older releases we have been hiding away. While supplies last, as they say. Mostly limited stuff.
We have some plans for another non-album release a bit later this year, but we’ll see what happens. Check in on our Facebook-page for news and updates.
We are also working on a new album, and we hope (but can’t promise) that it will be out next year. So far, I’m really stoked by the material we have written. Once again, we work under the motto: Let’s go darker.
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