Sifting Through The Embers Of War With Christian Muenzner (Eternity’s End)

Christian Muenzner is a man with almost as many bands as there are notes in his average riff. Known for his extremely fast, technical guitar playing, Muenzner brings his style to a whole breadth of genres from death (Obscura) to thrash (Paradox) to extreme prog (Alkaloid). He also heads up a power metal band, Eternity’s End, whose third album Embers Of War saw its release recently.

After reviewing Embers Of War and loving it, we caught up with its mastermind to find out more:

A Certain Taste: How would you describe the sound and the concept of Eternity’s End in 2021?

Christian Muenzner: I mean, we’re a power metal band but with the term “power metal” nowadays, everybody thinks something different. There are so many schools of power metal, so maybe I’ll start with what we’re not. [laughs] We’re not one of the pop power metal kind of bands, although we have very catchy choruses and accessible songs. We’re not really classical metal because it’s faster than that and it’s more technical. You have big choirs, reminiscent of the German power metal scene but it’s more related to the heavy or aggressive riff-dominated power metal. I like to call our music “technical power metal”. When we started, on the first album, we were pretty much a neo-classical metal band in the Malmsteen or Symphony X kind of school but then we moved more into the speed and thrash metal direction and I think we found our own niche by doing that.

ACT: Definitely. I think every album has gotten faster.

CM: That was the intention! Go faster and more over-the-top, basically!

ACT: The new songs are so insanely complicated; I’m interested in how you sit down and write the music for stuff like this? 

CM: It’s like a very old-school approach. I might be watching a movie or I might be doing the dishes but I always have a guitar in the living room and if inspiration hits, I take the guitar and start brainstorming. I might record it or I might write it down. I know this sounds like a cliché but there’s even one chorus on the album where I heard the melody in a dream…

ACT: Which chorus is that?

CM: Hounds of Tindalos! I took my phone and, even though I can’t sing very well, just sang a little bit into my phone so I didn’t forget it. It usually starts like that with one specific idea. It could be a main riff, it a vocal melody, a harmony, a lead melody, a rhythmic pattern that I might not have used before. While the majority of ideas are not good, sometimes I’m in a flow and I write a song within a day or two.

Usually, I write the music for all the instruments and then I write the vocal melodies and from there I try to find lyrics that fit with the vocal melodies. I don’t want to sacrifice a catchy melody for complex wording so I go from that direction, mainly. Most of the instruments are written out in a score but, of course, what I write for the bass player or the drummer is just a guideline. They can do their fills and their own stuff because they know better how to do that than I would know, as a guitar player. For the vocal melodies, I either play them on guitar or I sing them on my phone into the voice recorder. It’s a pretty shitty performance but they know what to make from that, and they put their creativity and their ability into that and then the songs become basically what they are.

I mean, I’m pretty used to writing complex music also from my other band Obscura. We work in a very similar way where we make scores of the music and then add it to MIDI, then work on all the details and so on. Of course, I’m also up for improvisation. On this new album, Piet Sielck from Iron Saviour did the choirs with me and he would say “well, this melody sounds good on guitar but for a whole choir to sing it, it’s just too many words, so I would suggest changing it” and I was open to that. I mean, he’s been doing this for 30 years. I trusted him with it. All the changes we made ended up sounding better in the end.

ACT: Was it a challenge to record all of this, given the situation with the pandemic and the fact that you’re not all living in the same country?

CM: From this album, Eternity’s End was starting to feel like a real band with the line-up we have now. On the first two albums, it was more like a project because we had members from different countries. Now, I produce the demos and then my drummer Hannes, who lives very close to his studio, records the drums and everybody else is usually doing their stuff at home. This time, we’d have liked to have recorded the vocals here in Germany, in Hannes’s studio, but that wasn’t possible because of the pandemic. So Iuri sent me things on the WhatsApp voice recorder and I would listen and say “oh, that’s cool but maybe change that bit” so it was almost like being in the same room but all over WhatsApp. Technology makes it possible nowadays. Although getting together for the music video took a long time until everybody was vaccinated and could travel and the restrictions allowed it and all that stuff. So when we did the music video, it was shot just two weeks before it was released and everything happened super-fast.

ACT: Did you have a lot of creative input into the music video (for Hounds of Tindalos)?

CM: Kind of. I mean, we were on a limited budget so we couldn’t pay lots of actors or film for three days. We only had one day at the location but the guy who did the video also did all the videos for Obscura, which is how I knew him. I basically sent him the song and told him what the story is about. I said let’s do a performance video but with a science fiction dark fantasy kind of vibe. There was a story with this mad scientist who, in the song, experiments with, like, psychedelic drugs and artefacts and machinery that he feels can access different dimensions. We obviously couldn’t do all of that but we could build the story into the scenery in that video, and we did that very well.

ACT: I think it really fits the song. Obviously so much on the album is inspired by classic sci-fi and fantasy stories like that. What is it about those stories that appeal to you and makes you want to use them in your music?

CM: It’s escapism. This is also power metal to me. Everyone has their daily problems and every day you get up and there’s so many things to take care of and so much trouble. People say it’s cheesy when you sing only about fantasy and cosmic horror and sci-fi but to me, it’s very important that we have this kind of band for escapism. When you’re involved in a story like that, you’re taken out of your real life, and your worries for a while, and you’re just living in that world. I’ve been reading a lot since I was a kid and when I was in the zone, I wouldn’t think about anything else that was going on. I wouldn’t think of the math test that’s coming up in school or the girlfriend that dumped me or whatever had happened. The stories took me into a different world. And the further it is from what we experience in our real life, the better, right? The more fantastic, the better! This is what I try to do with the music, where it takes you away for the time that you listen to it. Some types of music focus on that real-life stuff and there’s nothing wrong with that but with this band, it’s not what we want to do.

ACT: I love that. That’s exactly why I love metal so much.

CM: Me too! It’s like theatre, in a metal context.

ACT: Yeah, it’s all about heightened reality, especially with power metal. When I was a kid, one of the things that pushed me into metal was that I was really into role-playing games like Warhammer and Dungeons & Dragons…

CM: Yeah! I remember that. In the 90s here in Germany, we used to play something that was called Das Schwarze Auge (The Dark Eye). A lot of people who played that in the 90s were really into Blind Guardian and all those bands.

ACT: For me, Warhammer was the special one and when I listen to good power metal, that’s almost always straight where it takes me.

CM: Exactly, yes, it’s like the perfect soundtrack for all these games and scenarios. I think so too.

ACT: So obviously you’ve got a love of power metal that comes out in Eternity’s End but you’re also in Obscura. I just listened to the new album today and wow. If you thought Embers Of War was technical, A Valediction is a whole different level

CM: Yeah, when you don’t have clean vocals, you can go even crazier in the rhythm guitars!

ACT: Do you find your mind is split between power metal and death metal? How do you decide which riff goes where?

CM: Welllll… what I believe I did on the new Obscura album was actually bring a lot of my power metal influences into the music. There’s some neo-classical stuff going on, some power metal-ish solos and guitar harmonies. I like a lot of different subgenres of metal but I think the classic heavy metal and power metal, the well-done stuff, are my favourites if I had to pick. I also like a lot of death metal, black metal, doom metal though.

ACT: What was your path into metal? How did you first get into it?

CM: I don’t know if you’d call them a metal band but the first band I heard that got me into it was AC/DC. They’re hard rock but it was the album The Razor’s Edge, which is borderline heavy metal on some songs. It was the first time that electric guitar music really grabbed me. I think it was 1990 or 1991 and then, from there, I got into Iron Maiden. We’d go to the video store at the weekends where you could rent CDs and my dad would go with me and we’d rent Iron Maiden. I got into Megadeth and Slayer from there. My guitar teacher, when I started playing the guitar in ’93, gave me a copy of Yngwie Malmsteen’s Fire & Ice album and this also has power metal-ish influences. In the second half of the 90s, a lot of bands took that kind of musical approach and technical guitar playing but combined it with more vocal-based songs with heavier riffs and better production. That was when I got into this world of power metal. I like so many other things but this will always remain my first love. All the other stuff I do, I think there’s always a bit of this element in there. On the new Obscura the most.

ACT: Yeah, for me it was Iron Maiden too, they were the first metal band I heard and even now, there’s a part of my brain that responds to stuff with “the more this sounds like Iron Maiden, the more I like it!”

CM: It’s true! I talked about it with a student of mine. He also got into Iron Maiden first. Of course, he likes other stuff, but he goes for the power metal side of things more than the chromatic-based death metal stuff. For me, it’s the same. Iron Maiden was also the first band I saw in concert, in ’93.

ACT: They were my second concert as a kid too. There’s something that feels very much like I’m chasing down the inner child with metal when I listen to it.

CM: Exactly that, yes. And also embracing that.

ACT: That’s what I love about it. It brings up that child-like wonder and excitement all over again.

CM: It’s the same for me, a kind of nostalgia. Some of the newer bands really capture that spirit.

ACT: I don’t like the bands who do it ironically.

CM: That is a problem with power metal nowadays, yes.

ACT: It’s so nice to hear an album that’s power metal but also straight-faced and inventive and modern.

CM: That was the exact idea for the band.

ACT: Of course, there’s a fair bit of thrash in there too. Was Deathrider a nod to Anthrax?

CM: Not really, actually! I mean, I love old Anthrax and the energy of that kind of stuff. There’s also a song by Omen, another band I like, called Death Rider, but when I chose the title I didn’t do this on purpose. At this point, I wasn’t really thinking about it but you’re right, there is a little bit of that speed metal influence in there.

ACT: I especially hear it on Deathrider, that’s such a thrashy song.

CM: Yep. I was mostly thinking about Savage Grace and Riot and a German band called Scanner, who did two albums in the 90s, and that kind of thing. But yeah, Anthrax also makes sense. I mean, I grew up with that band and they had both the thrashy riffing and really melodic vocals. I think that was always a really good combination.

ACT: Speaking of Riot… have you considered a mascot for Eternity’s End?

CM: [Laughs] Ehh, that’s a thing, right? Not really, because the first two album covers… well, the first one happened more or less by accident because we didn’t have any ideas and the guy from the label had something. The second album was far more in a power metal direction but there wasn’t a specific character on there. But now with the third album, I could see that happening, especially with the long-haired muscle guy.

He’s a little bit based on Elric of Melniboné but the original Elric isn’t that muscular. I was telling the cover artist “kind of like Elric but more ripped! More Conan-style!” With the robot, I was thinking of The Shrike from Dan Simmons’s Hyperion series. I like the idea that it makes us fantasy but also science fiction, almost like what Masters Of The Universe did in the 80s. The mixing of the two worlds. The cover concept is also like what happens in the songs, some are more fantasy-based, some are more sci-fi-based, some are in between… Anyway, yes, I could see that guy becoming our mascot in the future!

ACT: Awesome! I love that guy! It’ll be cool if you can take him out on the road! Will you be touring this album at all, do you think?

CM: We hope to! So far, we haven’t played live with this band. In the past the problem was the international line-up but now our singer, who’s from Brazil, lives in Portugal and he can come easily to Germany and the rest of us live close together. Now we’re able to tour and get together, it’s mostly just a matter of COVID and whether it’s possible to finance a tour, but we definitely want to make it happen. We may have something scheduled for Mexico for next year which I hope works but it depends on the COVID. Maybe if we can’t do tours, we’d at least like to do festivals but with COVID right now, it’s difficult because a lot of the bands who were booked for 2020 are now booked for 2022 and everything’s full. But we do really want to play live. It’s definitely going to happen at one point.

ACT: I hope to see it! Right, so the last question is a silly one. Just because this website is called A Certain Taste… what’s your favourite food?

CM: My favourite food?!

ACT: Yeah. Like, if you were going to be sent to some kind of space prison and you could only have one food there forever, shot up into space with you, what would it be?

CM: Does it have to be one particular dish or can it be like a specific country’s food?

ACT: I am benevolent. I will allow you a specific country’s food to go to your space prison.

CM: Well, then. I would definitely say Italian food. I like pasta, the way they make it in Italy. That’s what I like the most. I cook pasta most of the time, but I take it very seriously. I don’t like when it’s overcooked or too soft. When it says 8 minutes, I make sure it’s exactly 8 minutes.

ACT: That doesn’t surprise me. Even your cooking is super-technical! Thanks very much for taking the time to talk to us. Good with everything!

CM: Thank you so much!

Embers of War by Eternity’s End is released on Prosthetic Records, 26th November 2021

C.J. Lines

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