When it comes to interviews it's always a pleasure to talk with people who live for Metal. Whether it's "traditional" or "extreme" metal, these folks will do everything to suck the enjoyment out of every riff and every note they play or listen to. Among these I'll definitely consider mr. Christian Münzner, guitar virtuoso and mastermind behind ETERNITY'S END "Unyielding" (among others), who was kind enough to provide us a very interesting insight about ETERNITY'S END latest work, future plans and the music industry in general. Onward!
Greetings Christian and thank you for taking this time to do this interview! So, how have things been for you and your musical endeavors lately?
Hello! That question is not so easy to answer, I would say I’m stuck in the antagonism of artistic self-fulfilment and commercial failure haha. I have never been happier with any recording than I am with the new ETERNITY’S END and ALKALOID albums, and for the first time I’m really content with where I am as a songwriter and as a guitar player. On the contrary, I am basically re-starting from scratch again for the 4th or 5th time in my career. When you start a new band under a new name it does not really matter what you have done before or in which bands you or the other members have played, you start almost like a complete newcomer again. So while I am very content from an artistic point of view, the business side of things is a bit chastening.
With the exception of Japan it was incredibly difficult to get signed, and it’s not really possible to get decent offers for playing live with either band that would not end up being a financial loss, which is why I have not played any live shows in recent years except for cover gigs and session jobs, and I certainly do miss playing my own music live. But not to sound bitter, I am very grateful to be able to do what I do and for the faithful fan base that supports me in all of my musical undertakings.
A new album, the continuation of ETERNITY’S END journey. What has occurred and how have things shaped up for the band since the release of “The Fire Within”?
Shortly after the release of “The Fire Within” our European label Power Prog unfortunately went out of business, which is why with the exception of Japan again, the album did not really get any promotion except through some die hard fans online who really helped to spread the word. I would have loved to play live to promote the album, but it was not possible financially and logistically, considering no one had ever heard of the band. However, not long after the release of the first album new song ideas came to me and I felt the drive to make another album and continue with the band despite the bad luck we had business wise.
“Unyielding” marks a slight change in the direction of the style of the band. Was that a conscious choice or an organic need for?
It was not really a conscious decision, but rather a natural development of our sound. The riffs naturally ended up being heavier, faster and more aggressive than on the first album, and the songs naturally ended up being more straight forward, dropping the progressive metal and hard rock influences that would occasionally show on The Fire Within in favour of the speed, thrash and USPM elements that are apparent throughout the entire album on Unyielding.
You’ve managed to put together quite a line-up for making this one. Apart from mr. Grossmann and Pitts who also appear on the debut, you’ve got Mike LePond and Iuri Sanson (HIBRIA) on bass and vocals respectively. Why did you choose these folks?
I absolutely love the first HIBRIA album “Defying The Rules” from 2004. In my opinion it’s the best power metal album of the 2000’s. I have been a big fan of Iuri ever since I first heard this album so many years ago, he is my favorite metal vocalist of the modern era, like Rob Halford, Mike Vescera, Rob Rock, Michael Kiske and Tony Martin in their prime mixed together. It had always been my dream to work with him, but when HIBRIA were still active in that line up I did not even bother to ask him. However, when we heard that everyone just had left HIBRIA and we were looking for a new vocalist, we contacted him right away, and he loved the songs and agreed, and hearing one of my favourite vocalists sing over our riffs is still surreal to me.
With Mike, everyone who knows us knows that we are big SYMPHONY X fans. We wanted the bass playing on this album to be more over the top and busier as well this time. The cool thing about Mike is that he combines the best of both worlds, on the one hand you have the ultimate progressive metal monster player with all the crazy chops and knowledge, but he is also a real Heavy Metal warrior who has a lot of attitude and aggression in his playing, which everyone who ever saw him play live can confirm. His style is exactly the combination we were looking for.
You also got a new partner in crime this time, a second axeman, mr Phil Tougas. How come? How did Phil Tougas affected things by joining the band?
The songs for ETERNITY’S END have always been written for a 2 guitarist situation. The harmonies and counterpointual riffing are essential for our style, so it was mandatory to add a 2nd guitarist especially for the live situation. Also, I wanted it to appear more like a real band and not the typical Yngwie rip off neoclassical solo guitar player project with a vocalist and a band name, there is more than enough of that on the market already. I have always loved twin guitar bands like IRON MAIDEN, JUDAS PRIEST, HELLOWEEN, CACOPHONY, RACER X, ANGRA, HIBRIA, CRIMSON GLORY, QUEENSRYCHE, MERCYFUL FATE etc. and I wanted to embody this approach a lot more on the new songs.
I had been in touch with Phil for many years already since he is a total music nerd like me and we share many similar influences and a similar philosophy about metal and music in general. I have been following his bands and projects for a long time and become a huge fan of his playing and writing. I think he and Brandon Ellis (BLACK DAHLIA MURDER, ARSIS) are the best metal guitarists of their generation, they really save the genre and bring back the elements to the guitar playing that have gone missing with a lot of the modern aesthetics.
The first time we collaborated was when I did a guest solo on the album “Dasein” by his tech death band FIRST FRAGMENT, where we did a crazy long trade off solo section with CACOPHONY-type harmonies etc. It worked so well that we thought we have to do this a lot more often haha. But Phil is not only a great guitar player, but an amazing songwriter as well. Many people can play, but too often they are more concerned with their guitar playing than with anything else and loose the view for the music as a whole, and I was specifically looking for someone to write and compose with, and you really have to share a similar philosophy for this to work.
So besides the focus being more on the twin guitar approach than before, I was no longer composing the music for ETERNITY’S END alone but it was a joint effort, and one that worked for the better. Too often in the past when I wrote with other people I did not like it very much because it often felt like a compromise and like having to sacrifice my own ideas for the sake of someone else’s, because the other people would not exactly share my vision or understand where it was coming from. Not this time though, it was rather the opposite, the creative flow felt very natural and we inspired each other to better ideas, and very often our ideas were the missing link to each other’s song ideas.
There are a few other people that contributed in making this album and who are also known for their broader contribution to the metal scene. Would you like to share a few info about the making of the album?
The most important contribution is by PIET SIELCK of IRON SAVIOR/ex-SAVAGE CIRCUS, who mixed, mastered and co-produced the album, and provided all the choirs and backing vocals along with Yenz Leonhardt (STORMWARRIOR, ex-IRON SAVIOR, ex-SAVAGE CIRCUS). Piet also does the lead vocals on the Japan bonus track of the album, “The Arsenal”, and also co-wrote that song with us. Iuri’s vocals were engineered and recorded by ex-HIBRIA guitarist Renato Osorio at Soundhouse studios in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Renato also provided additional backing vocals and gang shouts on 3 songs along with Iuri. There are no other guests on the album. Basically the album was recorded in 7 different studios, everyone tracking and engineering their own tracks.
For all the guitar geeks and freaks out there, would you like to tell a few things about the setup you used for making the album?
Yes. The rhythm guitars for the entire album are quad tracked, so you have 2 guitars left, 2 guitars right. We used 2 different amps for the rhythm guitars, an ENGL Savage left and right, doubled with an ENGL Powerball left and right. For all our individual and harmony leads we used a Peavey 5150 Mark II. All the rhythm guitars were recorded on an Ibanez RG with a Dimarzio tone zone pick up in the bridge position. For my leads and harmonies I used 2 of my Ibanez RG’s, Phil used his Schecter Jeff Loomis for the most part I think.
Ιf not mistaken we’re dealing with a concept album this time. Would you like to share a few details about the story? Oh, and no spoilers please haha…
The story is quite complex and covers an entire time span of 900 years. In a parallel reality an alien space craft by an alien race called the Pryarus crashes on earth in the year 1099 after Christ. Mankind is still very barbaric and uncivilised in those days and still guided by the law of the blade. Following the discovery of the technology found in the space vessel humanity develops a very advanced technological standard in an unnaturally short time period, providing them with very advanced weaponry and enabling interstellar space travels. Due to humanity’s social development being centuries behind their technological advancement they create a lot of unrest and stir in the galaxy and amongst themselves. The Pryarus, alarmed by a signal triggered in the crashed space vessel, are embarking to our solar system to attack earth in order to re-create the inter-cosmic balance, which ultimately creates a centuries lasting inter-stellar conflict.
The sci-fi artwork and overall concept reminded me of the works of none other than mr. Arjen Anthony Lucassen (AYREON). Even though your music is different, would you credit them an influence in general?
Honestly, I have never heard a single AYREON song in my life, so the answer is definitely no. I know that our original singer Ian Parry sang for Arjen’s original band VENGEANCE back in the early 90’s, and of course I heard the name AYREON, but I never checked out any of it. I guess like us he is into Science Fiction stuff and escapism so that’s probably where the potential similarities come from.
And speaking of influences, which artists/genres do you consider to be the most influential when it comes to you and your music?
I have been listening to metal for almost 30 years by now, everything that you listen to, everything you experience and everyone you play with influences you in one way or another as a musician, and there is an almost infinite amount of artists/bands/musicians which have influenced me over the years. It is impossible to name them all, but SOME of my most important influences over the years have been:
Joey Tafolla, Racer X, Crimson Glory, old Helloween, Yngwie Malmsteen, Cacophony, Elegy, Apocrypha, Tony MacAlpine, old Symphony X, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Vinnie Moore, Running Wild, Angra, Vitalij Kuprij, Greg Howe, Leatherwolf, old Stratovarius, King Diamond/Mercyful Fate, Death, Annihilator, Watchtower, Black Sabbath (Dio and Tony Martin era only), Iron Savior, Steve Vai, old Dream Theater (89-95), Megadeth, Dokken, W.A.S.P., Toxik, Nocturnus, Fates Warning, Allan Holdsworth, anything with James Murphy, Forbidden, Loudness, TNT, Queensryche, Derek Taylor, Shadow Gallery, anything with Richard Andersson, Galneryus, Helstar, Chastain, Blind Guardian, Morbid Angel to name just a few.
Which was your goal with “Unyielding”? Do you think you’ve accomplished it?
Phil Personally I always thought that the power metal genre has the potential to be some of the most amazing and some of the most horrible music ever, and there is only a thin line that divides the one from the other. We want to bring back the elements that once made this style so special and that got lost in the last 10-15 years when the genre became a safe zone for those who like a little bit metal, but not too much, giving the genre a bad name.
We want to create fast paced, aggressive, guitar focused music with a lot of attitude, passion and drive, full of escapism and that particular power metal atmosphere that takes you into another world, technical and ridiculously over the top, with an almost arrogant focus on excessive soloing and instrumental virtuosity, with an equally over the top and schooled vocal style, but keeping it all in compact, accessible song structures, with epic vocal melodies and huge, epic choruses.
I feel we succeeded with this, I feel like this is the album I always wanted to create since more than 20 years.
Which are the next steps for the band moving forward? Is there a chance to see you on stage with ETERNITY’S END in the near future?
That is indeed what we want to do. Playing live to promote the album is the next very important step for us. Like I mentioned in the beginning of the interview, it’s not easy since we are starting from scratch and the first steps will be challenging to make it work financially and logistically, but it needs to happen, I think there is too much passion in those riffs to be just a one off side project, and we want to proof to the world that we are a real band. Those songs are meant to be performed live. And of course we are already brain storming riffs for the follow up album. There were almost 3 years between the first 2 albums, hopefully next time it won’t take that long anymore.
If there’s anything else you’d like to share about “Unyielding”, now’s the time…
I want everyone who reads this to check out the album regardless what sub-genres or sub-sub-genres someone prefers without writing it off beforehand because of the power metal name tag. I think this album is the most honest and passionate musical effort I was ever involved in, and every true metal fan or fan of high energy music in general should check it out!
If I may comment on this, the release of “Unyielding” was a silent “one” given it got released right before New Year’s. How come? Any plans for a european or US release anytime soon?
The reason for this was mostly unfortunate timing and business objections. In April when we announced that we are working on a 2nd album I started contacting labels. In Japan we got a deal over night, but everyone I contacted in Europe rejected us or did not even bother to reply. So we started a crowd funding campaign in order to finance the production costs of the album. The Japan contract says their version should be released before any other versions of the album are available, so we pushed our Japanese label for an as early as possible release and they tried their best to make it possible, initially planning to release the album in the 3rd week of November.
But as things go when making a record things got a little bit delayed on our end and we did not manage to deliver the master in time, so the next possible release ended up being late December. We just signed to German label and the album will be released world wide shortly, we will publish the news on that within the next couple of days.
Having formed and played in numerous bands, I’m pretty sure you’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly of the music industry. How would you comment on the current status of things?
Yeah well, I don’t even think the term “business” or “industry” would still be fitting anymore, in comparison to every other line of business or work in the western world it can’t really be taken seriously unless we are talking about the big super stars. Even running a label for metal is a very brave undertaking nowadays that can lead to financial suicide. We missed the point when things could have been changed for the better for the artists years ago. With streaming services where you can legally listen to music of all your favourite artists but where you technically have to play a song 30.000 times over until the creator actually makes a single cent with it, it has become basically impossible to make any money anymore unless you already have a big name and run crowd funding campaigns that actually generate left overs. This would be no problem if we did not also need money in order to produce albums and cover travel expenses for live shows, not taking in consideration that you also need to live on something.
People want bands to play everywhere, but they are not aware of the immense costs that are involved in world wide travelling and performing, without any industry behind it to cover it this becomes more and more impossible. For some reason especially in the metal scene it is still frowned upon to make money with your music and even when running a crowdfunding campaign you have to point out that you intend no personal enrichment. So we are not even talking about making money to live on anymore, but about finding the loopholes as a musician that you can finance your album productions without having to spend your entire salary that you make in your full time job on it. On top of it people demand free videos, need to be entertained on Instagram and other social media for the artist not to loose relevance with how fast things change, and if you don’t post something new everyday on top of practicing, composing, and recording in your free time and providing your music for free afterwards, people will forget about you and move on to the next. It’s a vicious cycle. It gets to the point where you need to be privileged in order to be able to make music and it’s no longer about the raw talent anymore.
I don’t blame anyone for using streaming services, we all do it, it’s just the way things have become, and in a way we all arrange with it without complaining too much, but it requires a lot of idealism, and the more responsibilities you have in life, the harder it becomes to do it, that is the unfortunate truth of things. This is why it takes bands longer between albums now, and why you see so many line up changes in basically every touring band, which usually ends up just being the main guy remaining, playing with usually younger session musicians who don’t know their worth yet and who are still willing to play for free or for “exposure” and see it as a “chance”. I’m sorry if I sound bitter or like a downer, I love music more than ever and there is so much good music to be discovered recently, and if we lived in a Star Trek like utopia the current state of things would work perfectly for everyone, but reality is different. The labels can not be blamed for this, at least not in that scene that we are part of, they suffer from those problems even more because they have to keep their entire companies in business.
As happened with “The Fire Within”, you ran an IndieGogo campaign to raise funds for “Unyielding”. How did that go? What’s your take on crowdfunding in general?
Unfortunately it did not go as well as for the first album, however now after the release there is a lot more attention for the band than there was when The Fire Within came out. So I don’t think it was because there was less interest in the band. One of the main reasons was that Indiegogo does no longer accept Paypal, many people who wanted to contribute simply could not. Also, I heard from so many people that they were not even aware we had a campaign running, and we posted it all over every possible social media channel every day, but now Facebook restricts music posts and it passes people by. Also, the crowd funding thing has been overused and people don’t really feel like contributing as much anymore as they used to I believe. I think by now it has also become something that especially works when you already have a name and a big following of which you can be certain they will contribute.
We recently saw bands like CONCEPTION and QUEENSRYCHE to use Music Pledge or other crowdfunding platforms to raise funds for their albums too. How would you comment on big and established names using such an approach?
I can’t really blame them and see nothing wrong with them doing that, it makes perfect sense since they are already well established and have a big fan group they can count on and they will certainly make more that way than they would ever get as recording advance from any label, the financial ruin of the music industry affects the bigger bands as much as the smaller ones. I only have a problem with it when bands have very poor work ethics and only rely on their name but fail to actually deliver the product that people pay for and thus giving the whole crowdfunding thing a bad taste. Someone who has been ripped off in that way will most likely not contribute in that format a 2nd time. That approach bears a lot of responsibility, and misusing it affects everyone negatively who needs to rely on it to finance their projects.
While on the topic, what do you think about the latest trend that wants many bands/labels to release music in numerous formats (lps, cassettes, etc)? Do you think the medium plays a role or is it just another industry gimmick to boost sales?
I think this is a very cool development. For a devout metal fan and collector visuals and aesthetics play a big role, and I think it’s fantastic that bands and labels are releasing cassette tapes and vinyl again and that people are buying that stuff, and that for the real fans holding a physical product in their hands remains important and that this is not swallowed as something old fashioned/out dated in the digital age. Listening to an album on tape or vinyl is definitely a very different experience than just listening to it on your laptop or smartphone. Just like going to a live concert is a different experience from watching it on Youtube. So I fully support that trend.
On a different note, would you like to share any cool music you happen to listen to recently with our readers?
I constantly listen to music when I’m not practicing, recording, teaching or composing. I try not to limit myself to one particular genre or subgenre of music, and I like discovering new things, which would either be new, current releases, or also old stuff that is new to me.
Albums I remember listening to while doing this interview:
JOEY TAFOLLA – Infra Blue
LETHAL – Programmed
MORBID ANGEL – Gateways To Annihilation
ROCKA ROLLAS – Celtic Kings
FATES WARNING – The Spectre Within
JUDAS PRIEST – Painkiller
PERSUADER – When Eden Burns
Some older albums I just discovered or re-discovered in the last year and which are on heavy rotation in the past few months would be:
SCALD – Will Of The Gods Is Great Power
ADRAMELCH – Irae Melanox
ORACLE/PRODIGY – As Darkness Reigns
REALM – Suiciety
TWISTED TOWER DIRE – Crest Of The Martyrs
ASHBURY – Endless Skies
HEAVEN’S GATE – Livin’ In Hysteria
AMORPHIS – Privilege Of Evil (EP)
Some new releases from last year that get a lot of plays recently:
SULPHUR AEON – The Scythe Of Cosmic Chaos
IMPELLITTERI – The Nature Of The Beast (damn, the dude can play…)
UNLUCKY MORPHEUS – Change Of Generation
SACRAL RAGE – Beyond Celestial Echoes
FIFTH ANGEL – The Third Secret
Some all time favorite albums that every reader should check out if they don’t know them yet:
JOEY TAFOLLA – Out Of The Sun (check out our band name…)
APOCRYPHA – The Forgotten Scroll (does the title seem familiar?)
QUEENSRYCHE – 1983 EP
CRIMSON GLORY – Transcendence
TONY MACALPINE – Maximum Security
SCANNER – Hypertrace & Terminal Earth
And if you’re a guitar player and need to hear some of the best solos ever recorded in the history of heavy metal:
JAG PANZER – The Fourth Judgement (with Joey Tafolla)
VICIOUS RUMORS – Soldiers Of The Night (with Vinnie Moore)
For inspiration for my upcoming solo album I am collecting material for I have been listening a lot ot G.F. Händel’s Harpsichord Suites and J.S. Bach’s Harpsichord Concertos, these works are a gold mine of inspiration for a heavy metal guitarist.
Also I have been quite obsessed with the 2012 Holy Grail live concert of the Japanese band VERSAILLES, for a while last year I watched it almost every day when I went to sleep during the recording sessions for “Unyielding”. That band is really fascinating in terms of execution, appearance and aesthetics.
Outside of metal/classical/fusion I have been enjoying a lot of Synthwave/New Retro Wave stuff in recent years, I’m really into artists like LAZERHAWK, TIMECOP1983, THE MIDNIGHT, MIAMI BEACH FORCE etc.
What is coming up next for you personally? Are there any new projects or any ideas in motion for your existing bands?
I just recently finished 2 solos for Hannes Grossmann’s upcoming third solo album. My main goal in 2019 is to play more shows again and get back to the stage. We have a couple of very cool festivals lined up for Alkaloid in the summer, hopefully we will also play some shows with ETERNITY’S END this year. I may also join 1 or 2 more other bands and play more shows. I am collecting material for a 3rd instrumental solo album, which will hopefully be recorded this year as well, and of course we are brainstorming riffs and ideas for new ETERNITY’S END and ALKALOID stuff. Also, ALKALOID guitarist Danny Tunker and me started a very cool instrumental rock fusion project in the style of the 2 Greg Howe/Richie Kotzen collaboration albums. We have recorded some very cool demos and I think the guitar fanatics would really enjoy those tunes, but for some reason we fail to progress or finish the project, as we don’t give it the priority it would need for a while and each of us constantly has something else coming up, so I’m not sure at this point if this project is ever going to be finished.
That’s all from me and the Forgotten Scroll. Christian, once again, thank you so much for your time and music. Feel free to close this one in any way you like! Cheers!
Thank you fort he opportunity and for the great questions and the great review for Unyielding on your page. Thanks to everyone who was reading this and checking out our album, everyone who supported us and helped to spread the word. Thank you all for keeping the scene alive.