MUNICH MAVERICKS Schandmaul

Incorporating
everything from jazz and Celtic influences to Middle Eastern and Eastern
European folk sounds, the German group transcends the “Medieval Rock”
category.

 

BY JOHN LENTZ

 

Back in the 1990s I was captivated by the music of a
rock-folk genre known as “Nordic Roots” music, made available to
listeners in the U.S. through (among others) Northside Records. Bands such as
Hedningarna, Garmarna, Gjallarhorn, and others combined the standard guitar,
bass, drums, and vocals with reproduced medieval era instruments to create a
unique, earthy, neo-tribal sound that resonated deeply with my own Germanic,
Celtic and Native American DNA. Depending on the band, some songs were original
compositions while others were actual medieval or folk songs reinterpreted in
late 20th century style. The music was powerful then and still is today.

 

Despite my love of these bands, I wanted to find music that
reflected my own German-American roots, and set off on what turned out to be an
extensive search for a band that spoke to my cultural longings. The result of
my quest was Schandmaul, a Munich-based group that should be on everyone’s
“must hear” list no matter what their native tongue. (Speaking of
which, the name translates as “malicious tongue.”)

 

The lyrics are in German, but like the Nordic bands
mentioned above, the transformational sound of the six-piece group is
universal. From singer Thomas Lindner’s vocals (the lyrics easily translated
via online sources, or with a dictionary if nothing else) to Birgit
Muggenthaler-Schmack’s bagpipes to Anna Kranzlein’s violin and hurdy-gurdy, the
band is grounded by the bass licks of Matthias Richter and player-manager
Stefan Brunner’s drums. The lead guitar work of Martin “Ducky”
Duckstein rounds out a unique, powerful journey that has no parallel in
contemporary music of the genre.

 

 

(“Drachenmedley,” from Sinnfonie live DVD)

 

 

 

 

With some ten albums to their credit, the band’s newest
offering, Traumtänzer (translation: “Dream Dancer”), is a transcendent,
ambitious work encompassing many styles while remaining faithful to the
Schandmaul sound that fans have come to expect. While past albums have given
listeners an innovative, eclectic mix of musical styles grounded in a distinct
trademark sound, Traumtänzer goes beyond where the band has explored in
previous recordings.

 

The paradox is that on first listen the band’s subtle change
in sound appears extreme, leading the longtime fan to question if Traumtänzer is the band’s best work. But a little patience is advised: once the new CD has
been digested and, if need be, a bilingual lyric sheet consulted, the listener
may find him or herself believing the new CD to be Schandmaul’s best yet. Worth
noting: it peaked at number four in the German Media Control Charts earlier
this year.

 

Bandmember Birgit Muggenthaler-Schmack seemed to agree with
this assessment when I spoke with her recently about the new recording.

 

***

 

BLURT: Are you happy
with the new CD, and does it continue the familiar Schandmaul sound, or has the
band gone in a different musical direction?

MUGGENTHALER-SCHMACK: We are very happy with the new CD
Traumtänzer. It does on the one hand continue our typical sound, on the other
hand again one little step in our musical development has taken place. In our
opinion, we managed for the first time to have the lively live sound on CD. No
“over-producing”, no exaggerated perfection, but just playing as if
standing on stage. So the songs and the sound are quite natural and pure.

 

Does Schandmaul have
any plans or interest in promoting the music outside of Germany? Would the band
ever consider recording in English, or re-recording any of your older songs in
English for that audience?

Actually, we have no plans of recording songs in English.
The most important reason is that (lead singer Thomas Lindner) obviously does
not want to sing in English. He says he is not able to express his feelings in
a foreign language.

        Moreover,
promotion outside Germany for us is very difficult: we are a “non
mainstream topic,” which means that promotion is mostly done by performing
live. In the beginning, this means a high investment of time and money, which
[are] both difficult for us.

 

I know that
Schandmaul is often referred to as one of the primary bands in the “Mittelalter
Rock” genre, and to me the group seems to be that but also much more. Are you
comfortable with this label, or do you think the band is moving or has moved
beyond being classified as “medieval rock”? In other words, do you find it
confining in a creative sense to be labeled in a musical category, or do you
embrace it?

In my opinion Schandmaul has never been a so called
“medieval rock band,” at least referring to our music. Contrary to
our German colleagues, we have never interpreted medieval tunes, but we have
always created our own melodies, which are similar to folk rather than to
medieval tunes. [There is] a saying: “Be glad of every label you are
identified with,” which means we are glad to have fans coming from the
medieval scene as well as fans coming from completely other directions. I think
Schandmaul includes much more than medieval rock and we keep on experimenting
with other musical styles.

 

I first discovered
the music of Schandmaul as a result of searching for the German equivalent of
the Scandinavian bands in the so-called “Nordic Roots” genre that I was
listening to at the time, bands such as Hedningarna, Garmarna, Gjallarhorn,
etc. I have often wondered if you or the other members of Schandmaul were fans
of Hedningarna in particular, since your song “Dudelzack” on Wahre Helden has
the same melody as the Hedningarna song “VargTimmen” from their album Tra. Were
these “Nordic Roots” bands an influence on Schandmaul? 

I was the only one in the band to know Hedningarna, because
I was very much interested in European folk music. But this music was not
really my inspiration for Schandmaul, rather one of many music styles that
formed my experiences on folk music. “VargTimmen,” by, the way is an
old folk song.

 

Some of the biggest
attractions are your powerful riffs on several of the new songs, including “Die
Rosen,” “Assassine,” and “Geas Traum.” Do you feel that you and/or the others
have reached a breakthrough of any kind with the new material in what you
strive to express musically?

I would not really talk about a breakthrough, but one more
time, on the new album we went a little more to the edges of our musical
playground … and we keep on practicing quite a lot on our instruments.

 

 

(“Geas Traum,” official video)

 

 

 

 

 

In comparison to the
band’s earlier works, the new CD is slower paced, more introspective perhaps,
and seems musically broader in some ways than earlier recordings. Examples –
and please correct me if I don’t express a musical influence accurately – are the
jazzy interlude in “Bis zum Morgengrauen,” the beautiful Celtic influence of
“Die Rosen,” the Middle Eastern riff in “Assassine,” and the Eastern European
folk music sound of “Pakt.” While I’ve heard some of this before from
Schandmaul – the Middle Eastern riff in “Tyrann” comes to mind – I’m not sure
I’ve heard all of these influences on one Schandmaul CD before. Do you agree
that this album incorporates more styles, and if so, why do you think the music
has moved in this direction?

You expressed it absolutely correctly! We don’t really have
a concept when we start the composition of a new album. Principally, we are
open for everything that comes into our minds. As all group members play in
other ensembles too, a lot of influences come from there. It is more a matter
of incidence, what will happen musically on a CD [and is] sometimes some sort
of surprise for us, too.

 

[Vocalist Thomas
Linder] is a fan of sci-fi author Wolfgang Hohlbein and his works, but how much
influence does Hohlbein’s book Infinity: Der Turm have on the new CD? I assume
the video (and the song lyrics) for “Geas Traum” (Gea’s Dream)
recreates a scene from the book, but does Hohlbein’s work affect any of the
other songs on the CD?

No, it is only “Geas Traum” which is influenced by
Hohlbein. Hohlbein’s stories influenced some earlier WETO-songs, the group
Thomas and Martin founded and our boys play together in now.

 

One of my favorites
on the new CD is “Die Rosen” with its beautiful piping riff. It sounds like it
could be an old Scottish tune. Did you originally travel to Scotland to learn
the bagpipes?

I traveled to Scotland when I was 12 or so, and twice again
in later years. I was always fascinated by Scottish music and I studied the
traditional ornamentation on the bagpipe. But I learned the basics of playing
bagpipe in Germany.

 

***

 

The band will embark
on a one month tour beginning Jan. 12, 2012 with appearances in Germany and
Switzerland. For more information visit www.schandmaul.de.

 

Discography

 

 

1999 Wahre Helden (translates as “True Heroes”)

2000 Von Spitzbuben und anderen Halunken (“Of Rogues and
Other Scoundrels”)

2002 Narrenkönig (“King of Jesters”)

2003 Hexenkessel (“Witch’s Cauldron”)

2004 Wie
Pech & Schwefel
(“Like Pitch & Sulfur”)

2005 Kunststück (“Feat”)

2006 Mit
Leib und Seele
(“With Body and Soul”)

2008 Anderswelt (“Other-world”)

2009 Sinnfonie

2011 Traumtänzer (“Dream Dancer”)

 

EPs

2005 Bin Unterwegs (“I Am on My Way”)

2006 Kein Weg zu weit (“No Way Is Too Far”)

 

DVDs

 2003 Hexenkessel

2005 Kunststück

2008 Sinnbilder

2009 Sinnfonie

 

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