Vomit to Vanquish the Vatican
CoC chats with Alex Wank from Pungent Stench
by: Paul Schwarz
I first heard the name of Pungent Stench five years ago. I was in an Italian restaurant at a friend's birthday dinner. A slightly late guest arrived, made his apologies to his host, and produced a CD from his jacket. On the cover of the CD was a grisly image depicting the severed, putrefacting heads of two aged persons French kissing. He waved the CD at one guest, inquiring as to whether he'd ever heard it. When the answer came back as a negative, he exclaimed excitedly: "These guys are sicker than Autopsy! They talk about chiseling your mother's eyeballs out!" The album in question was Pungent Stench's second album, released in 1991, _Been Caught Buttering_. The episode above is quite illustrative of Pungent Stench's status back in the early Nineties. With the death metal scene stuffed full of bands, separating yours from the crowd was of paramount importance. Bands tried to claim various accolades for themselves -- Mortician's "most brutal" self-labelling was born out of this climate. Pungent Stench were sold substantially on the twisted, gore-and-perversion-soaked nature of their visual presentation and lyrics. This naturally put them alongside Autopsy -- although for my money, there is nothing astounding about Pungent Stench's musical material for the various eras in which it was made. In 1995, Pungent Stench split. In 1998, a compilation entitled _Praise the Names of the Musical Assassins_ [CoC #29], which collected all the rare and unreleased Pungent Stench material available, was finally released by Nuclear Blast as a sort of farewell to the band. Many in the underground came forward to praise Pungent Stench's career, and bemoan their passing. That wave of praise was what prompted me to pick up various Pungent Stench albums and check the band out. Though I discovered nothing that was musically revelatory, I was consistently impressed with how well presented Pungent Stench's albums were, and how consistently their lyrics managed to cover subject matter that side-stepped dumb death metal norms. Then, completely out of the blue, a new Pungent Stench album turned up in the mail last Autumn: _Masters of Moral Servants of Sin_. Over repeated listens, I was not only highly impressed with how much Pungent had sharpened up and compressed their musical material into tight and powerful Haunted-esque blasts of thrashing intensity -- which nonetheless retained the creepy, 'necro' feel of the Pungent Stench of old -- I was also amused and enthralled by the twisted, strongly taboo themes they covered in their lyrics this time out -- which, through a gruff but clear vocal delivery, could be substantially understood even on casual listens. Lines like "Pull on my trenchcoat, and grab my fathers gun" (from "School's Out Forever") or "They crown me: paedophile rex" (from "Rex Paedophilius") made me sit up straighter in my seat -- they also had me laugh out loud on more than one occasion. Though I was pretty sure that the band had their tongues planted in cheeks, I still wondered what Pungent Stench were ultimately trying to say with _MoMSoS_: whether there was some serious point being made. Thus it was, with many questions and a genuine interest in Pungent Stench 2001, that I conducted the following interview with Alex Wank.

CoC: What prompted the original Pungent Stench split, in as simple or as complex terms as you wanna go into?

Alex Wank: Why we, more or less, split up, hmmmm... Well, I don't know, it's... Back when we released the last one, _Club Mondo Bizarre_, we did a European tour. Originally it was fine and then we had a short break and we composed the next record. Then we did the US and the US tour was really long. After three months we had a really bad mood between each other and we were just sick of everything. We ended up at the point of no return and then we just didn't feel comfortable, had no more fun and said: fuck it, you know. Then we just stopped. We split up in '95, six years ago.

CoC: Six years down the line, what prompted you to bring the band back together? What sparked it off?

AW: Well, I never thought that we would ever reform the band anyway, because I thought: why? For what reason? And I couldn't believe, myself, that I would enjoy starting everything again.

CoC: That's why you put out the _Praise the Musical Assassins_ CD?

AW: Exactly, in '97, and I thought: this is it, this is the epitaph of us, and adios, you know. But then, I don't know, in 2000 I got a phone call from Nuclear Blast: they wanted to re-release stuff and remaster stuff and blah, blah, blah. And, you know, for all their classic bullshit series they need bonus songs. And I said, "I have no bonus songs, we used them for _Praise the Names..._. What do you want?" And then they said, "Ah, maybe you can record one." I said, "What should I record? I mean, we have no more band." And then I talked with Martin and I mean, it was a ridiculous question of Nuclear Blast's. And then, you know, we talked and we met more and more and then we did sessions for us and we enjoyed it. The bassist was not interested in metal since we split. He finished doing music at all and he finished with metal and everything. So it was just me and Martin: we met and played around and enjoyed it and we said, "Before we record one or two songs for shitty re-releases, we reform the band." And then we just reformed.

CoC: Alright, fair play. So now that you have reformed and you've got the ball rolling, is there some sort of purpose: do you think something missing from the scene that you wanna bring back to it, something particular?

AW: Nah, I don't think so. There's so many bands out, nobody misses Pungent, I think. <laughs>

CoC: OK, that's interesting, because I do remember when you guys split up and especially when _Praise the Names..._ came out, there were a lot of people who, sort of, almost came out of the closet to praise Pungent Stench. And people were like: this [_PtNoTMA] is brilliant and it pays tribute to this amazing band and stuff.

AW: Really?

CoC: Yeah! Because I mean, the death metal scene tends to have that, you know, tends to have this way of remembering the underdogs, the unusual bands, I guess.

AW: Yeah.

CoC: Why did you decide to sign with Nuclear Blast again?

AW: Well, they showed interest, of course, from day one 'cause they asked about the re-releases, and then we said, "Yes, we can do it in a proper way -- but we also reformed, by the way." And Markus [Staiger, Nuclear Blast label boss -- Paul] was extremely happy because he outed himself as a Pungent fan ages ago.

CoC: Yeah, he always seemed to support the band.

AW: Yeah, he really loves us. I don't know why, but he just enjoys us and he thinks even the new one is killer. We've always had very good support and very good friendship with him and the company and the company grew with us and we grew with the company back in the very old days. And he's thankful for us, until now, and that's great of him. Why should we change? It's the perfect company for us. We always worked together with them. They are not too far away from us, etc., etc. So: perfect.

CoC: Nuclear Blast always worked well for you, I think.

AW: Yeah, and plus they need some heavy stuff again 'cause there's too much... too much... useless metal on their company. <laughs>

CoC: Definitely. It's interesting because some bands had real kind of... some of the death metal bands who started at the same sort of time as you, Nuclear Blast kind of ran out on at various times. But I think they started running out on them after Pungent Stench split up, like in about '96/'97. Like Dismember, and a couple of other bands who'd been on the label for a long time.

AW: That's right. The whole scene really suffered, I think, with sales and the sales of these bands. They went back and they focused on other stuff and now the range... it's a totally different range of stuff they have and there's hardly any death metal. They asked me about a split 7" or whatever they wanted -- a gimmick -- and I said, "With whom?" They said, "Pick a band, you know, from Nuclear Blast." And I said, "Come on, there's nothing on your label which I want." <laughs> Nothing fits to us. I mean, there's still Benediction, they have a pretty nice record now out, of course, but there's not much left. Yeah?

CoC: Yeah, I know what you mean. It's got very sparse compared to how it was. Why the title "Masters of Moral Servants of Sin"?

AW: Why?

CoC: Yeah, what's the idea of the title, if any?

AW: Well, of course there are meanings: there are meanings for everything. I mean, you have just a promo, so you don't understand the whole concept of the whole thing.

CoC: That's one of my next questions, actually.

AW: The whole thing is -- hmm, where should I start? -- the whole concept, the whole image, the whole lyrics, the whole artwork, everything, all photos, everything of us is absolutely in one direction. It is about religion -- Catholics -- about the church, about the Vatican, about preachers and popes and whatever. The title stands for it, and it stands also for us: we are the Masters of Moral and the Servants of Sin, of course. And as you see on the promo at least, there's this new symbol -- this logo of ours -- which is also from the church. It's the "t" cross and we just put the "s" on it and you have a nice symbol, also, for the band. The "s" is a snake... whatever that means. <laughs> You have many lyrics about it, of course -- not all, but almost all. And it's better if you read and get the whole one, you know.

CoC: Yeah, that's what I wanted to do, but unfortunately I couldn't do that before I talked to you.

AW: Okay okay, I see.

CoC: Fortunately, the record's production -- which is exceptionally good, by the way...

AW: Thank you.

CoC: ...means that I can understand a number of bits of the lyrics, so I can -try- and get into the lyrics.

AW: You can understand. It's pretty clear. <ha ha ha>

CoC: Yeah, it's pretty clear the whole way through. Will this cover, this simple cover [featuring the symbol Alex mentioned above on a black background], be the cover for the album?

AW: No. There was a plan for a very limited edition with this in an embossed print on a leather box, but I think it's too expensive for them so they don't wanna do it: whatever. So they'll do a digipak and a regular CD with a very nice photo of us. So it looks different.

CoC: The one on the back of the promo with you as priests? [standing around a young girl dressed in white: an ambiguously disturbing image.]

AW: Nononononononono. This photo is just for the promo. We had more than a thousand photos done in two days and we have so much material that we have, for every magazine, a different photo. <ha ha ha>

CoC: Wicked! Great!

AW: So there's so much material that there will be a photo booklet -- it's just full of photos -- and we have an additional lyrics booklet 'cause for the German market Nuclear Blast don't wanna include the lyric booklet [Pungent Stench are on 'the index' in Germany: media on 'the index' is only available on request to over 18s -- Paul] so they only get the photo booklet and the rest is getting both booklets.

CoC: Oh, right. That was the other thing I was gonna ask you: whether the lyrics were gonna be included.

AW: Sure, sure: very important thing.

CoC: In comparison to your older albums -- although a lot of the covers got edited for different markets, like the _CMB_ cover, for the American market, was shrunk, and various things -- why did you decide for this one not to do something that would be more offensive or gruesome or what have you? Was it because you've been so censored in the past?

AW: No, no, no. Not at all, no. I mean, we had problems but I don't care too much, you know, if it doesn't hurt the sales. The problems came so late with the band split up already, so I didn't care, to be honest, you know. No, no. I don't know: we got older and we think different now and when you read and see everything, believe me, this record is the most extreme in the message, yeah? <ha ha ha> But it's done in a more...

CoC: Subtle?

AW: No, in a more serious way, maybe, and everything is better presented, you know, and more hidden maybe. There's almost no chance for the Germans or whoever to try to censor us 'cause it is done in a clever way, more or less. You know what I mean?

CoC: I see what I mean: you're being less obvious about it...

AW: Yeah, but on the other side it's super-extreme, you know?

CoC: Yeah, absolutely: but it's the kind of extreme that the fans will get but the censors will miss.

AW: I hope so, at least.

CoC: But that's the idea.

AW: But still, Markus fears some problems here in Germany, that's the reason why he asked about, you know, "Leave the lyrics for the German market." And I said, "OK, we do an edition for the rest of the world, of course, the rest of Europe, with lyrics and we can do it without in Germany, no problem." But even the Germans can order it from us, or from Nuclear Blast maybe, with the additional booklet. We'll put it on our page, you know, and they can download it: whatever.

CoC: Absolutely, yeah, that'll work. I'm gonna talk about the music and then we can go back to the lyrics. This new album takes a somewhat altered musical direction. It's still distinctly Pungent Stench -- especially some of the delivery -- but the actual pace is different. It seems a bit more thrashy. Something about it sort of reminds me of the way The Haunted do very pristine, violent trash. Did you consciously try to make this album a break from the old albums?

AW: Well, we got better, as musicians, and we tried also to be... we tried to make our best, you know. I mean of course, we love The Haunted. This is a great CD; the last one is a great, a -killer- record -- and Martin likes it too -- and I'm sure we got influenced, somehow, by them, you know. I mean we didn't go into a room and say: come on, let's do a Haunted song. But, you know, if you listen to stuff you know you like then it's somehow in your brain and maybe, you know...

CoC: ...it influences you.

AW: Yeah, somehow, you know? But we only tried to be... to make it a very aggressive record and a pretty fast record. And Pungent always is different from record to record.

CoC: Yeah, definitely.

AW: If you go through, everything sounds different. The most important thing for me is that you recognise the band and I think you do recognise the band.

CoC: Definitely, yeah.

AW: Absolutely. But it's something new and it's how Pungent should sound like in 2001, I think.

CoC: Yeah, that's what I think. It's very sharp. I mean, technically it is much sharper than your earlier albums.

AW: Yeah.

CoC: You crammed a lot more in, I think.

AW: You can't deliver a record like we did ten years ago, now. Maybe a new band, a newcomer band or whoever, but not the band who did it already ten years ago, you know. 'Cause people would say: pschk, OK, that sounds like ten years ago. <hehu, hehu>

CoC: Exactly. I think it's good though, that you have tried to develop, 'cause some bands who come back from the grave, as it were, do sort of try an' do just old things because a lot of them are trying to appeal -only- to their old fans...

AW: Yup, yup, yup.

CoC: ...'cause, I find, a lot of older death metal fans sort of object to things that sound even vaguely different from what they expect.

AW: Yeah.

CoC: So there you go. _MoMSoS_ is technically very cool and it's got a lot of, I don't know: I really liked some of the melodies...

AW: There are more melodies, for sure.

CoC: Really cool, really sharp.

AW: Great.

CoC: It's definitely my favourite album by far.

AW: Thanks.

CoC: But yeah, OK, going onto the sick lyrics thing. You've done "Rex Paedophilius", for example.

AW: Yeah.

CoC: It covers this deeply taboo subject of paedophilia to some degree.

AW: Yeah.

CoC: I assume it's paedophilia in the church, but I'm not quite sure.

AW: Yeah, of course.

CoC: Do you worry that this is gonna get you in some sort of trouble, for example, in England, or...

AW: No. Why? I'm very sure that it happens many, many times in England.

CoC: Totally, I'm sure it does.

AW: So... it's just the truth.

CoC: Oh, definitely.

AW: Actually, when we recorded in July I got a phone call like the second day we were in the studio, and my girl called me from Vienna and she said, "A new, big scandal. A preacher was caught. He had sexual intercourse with children from five to ten for the last seven years." And what happened to him? Nothing. He went... of course they threw him out of this church, but he went to a convent and he doesn't even go to jail, you know. Nothing happens and after a week the story was gone, you know. No news: they tried to hide it. You know, I think this is unbelievable. I mean, in what kind of a society do we live, you know?

CoC: I know, it's one of those subjects which gets covered every now and again. I mean, Immolation did it on their last album as well...

AW: Uh huh.

CoC: ...and it's incredible. There's all these things about the way the Catholic church can protect itself.

AW: It's one of the cruelest things you can do, you know, to kill or have sex with a child, whatever age. I mean, it's unbelievable. I mean, that's really, totally extreme. It's a very good idea what the English did, to put the faces on the newspaper. Very nice idea. <ha ha> Nobody did that in Austria, you know. I don't know why. Maybe the laws are different, maybe they can't, you know, but I think it's a good idea, you know. I mean, these guys are pigs and it's strange: it's always guys and many, many times it's people involved in the church, you know.

CoC: The thing is that you've written the songs, as far as I can tell from what I hear of the lyrics, from the perspective of the sick person rather than from the, sort of, "You're bad!" perspective. Why in particular did you decide to write it from that angle?

AW: <sharp inhalation> Well...

CoC: To offend people and make them think, for example?

AW: <abrupt sigh> Of course, yeah, of course, I mean, this is very important for us. I mean, we try to be very offensive, but on the outside also very much -- you know, we try to entertain our people more or less, yeah? But there must be -- -must- be <self-scoldingly> -- there -should- be a message or something in-between the lines, you know?

CoC: Yeah.

AW: This is important, I think, so that people which really do like our music and our image, they will have a good laugh, they will be really entertained, but they will also read, they will think, "You know, on the other side, it's true what they write." You know? "They write it maybe in a harsh way but it's exactly what I just saw last night in the news." You know?

CoC: Yeah, totally. Moving on to "School's Out Forever".

AW: Yeah.

CoC: This sounds like it was inspired by the Columbine high school shootings...

AW: Yeah yeah, Martin did this, and he was said: absolutely, it's from this Denver happening.

CoC: Did you hesitate in writing such a song?

AW: I have no idea. To be honest, you'd need to ask him. <hahahaha>

CoC: OK, fair play. Well, put it this way -- this is what I thought was an interesting question: have you ever decided, in the history of Pungent Stench, that a subject is too extreme or taboo to be included, or would that be kind of to miss the whole point of the band, that something -could- be too extreme for it?

AW: I don't think so. I think one of the most extreme things we are talking about is -now-. I mean, "Rex Paedophilius" is pretty extreme, I think, and... What should be more extreme, to be honest?

CoC: Yeah, well, I can't think of anything but -in theory- would you ever, sort of like, shy away? Is the idea of Pungent Stench, in a way, to kind of not have those sort of boundaries?

AW: No, there should not be boundaries, to be honest.

CoC: OK.

AW: I mean, if something is happening in life, you should be able to talk about it and of course also write a text about it. I mean, it always depends -how- you write about it, you know?

CoC: Yeah.

AW: I hope that we succeed somehow, you know, that it's not -too- positive for something. But I think we succeed; I think the people know exactly what we're trying to say.

CoC: What you're saying, in a way, is that you don't wanna glorify things as such...

AW: Absolutely not, but you know, on the other side, if somebody reads lyrics like these of ours and this person's got nothing to do with this death metal scenery, then of course this person will be shocked. <huh, huh, huh> Totally, yeah. So, what can you do then?

CoC: I know, it's difficult. Do you see Pungent Stench outside its context in the death metal scene? Is part of the idea of making the album, making the kind of album that -will- offend people outside of the scene?

AW: I mean, I don't wanna offend people in the scenery and I think I can't succeed anyway. <huh huh> So it's statements for people outside, yeah.

COC: Pungent Stench was pretty much seen as the sickest band at one point. I remember one incident about six or seven years ago when a friend of mine had of a copy of _Been Caught Buttering_ and he was talking to another friend of mine and saying, "Yeah yeah, I got this, man. It's like, sicker than Autopsy! They talk about chiselling your mother's eyeballs out." And this was kind of what people went for at one point, you know?

AW: Uh huh.

CoC: I think at first that was possibly what marked Pungent Stench out more than their music.

AW: Mmhm hmhm.

CoC: The fact that it was sooo sick.

AW: Well, I think Autopsy were pretty sick guys. I mean, for instance the first record of Mr. Reifert under Abscess is unbelievable: _Urine Junkies_. What a crazy idea! I mean, perfect, yeah, for them. It's a pretty sick band, Autopsy and a lot of these guys.

CoC: I think Autopsy are great!

AW: We will bring them over next year with us.

CoC: Oh really!

AW: Yeah, I talked to Reifert already last month and they would love it. So they will come -- not under Autopsy but under Abscess. But that's OK, you know.

CoC: Oh, right, fair enough.

AW: But I don't know. Nowadays, to be honest, there are so many sick bands around.

CoC: Sure.

AW: The underground, the -real- underground, is a huge scenery with extremely sick and twisted bands. I mean, you can't top any more, you know, nothing.

CoC: It has sort of plateaued a bit...

AW: Yeah, I mean, absolutely: nothing can get grosser and more sick than it is nowadays. Back in our days it was maybe easier; not too many write about it, not too many tried to be very extreme. But maybe that was the reason why we changed and nowadays we have, you know, a different way of offending.

CoC: Exactly, and I think part of the point for bands like yourselves who realise that you can't just -be- X, Y or Z sick is that it's how you actually portray it that matters. 'Cause just to have sick lyrics doesn't actually cause that much effect. It's kind of how you frame it...

AW: Exactly.

CoC: ...and how you present it that makes it interesting.

AW: Exactly.

CoC: What I like about the _Masters..._ album is that it is quite sinister, you know, it doesn't just sort of jump out and say, "Look, I'm offending you!" There's something a bit sinister and a bit twisted about it, which is what's -good- about it.

AW: Great, great: that's what I would love to reach, you know, so hopefully I succeed somehow. <huh huh>

CoC: Would you say a Pungent Stench album that didn't offend people could exist? Does a Pungent Stench album have to do a certain amount of shocking?

AW: Well... we are almost marked with it, so... We have our fun, you know, we entertain ourselves with it, you know. I mean, if we write a lyric like "Rex Paedophilius" and I have a good laugh -- and I -had- a good laugh -- then it must be a good one, you know. <huh huh> And if it's packed very well -- you have to see the finished product, it will be very, very nice and many people will like it. I believe even if they don't like the music, they will... hopefully they will like our images. Yes, it's very important.

CoC: It always seems to have been very important to you to create both a coherent image and...

AW: Absolutely.

CoC: ...something that's interesting. You work on it a lot harder than some other bands.

AW: I mean, I hate these regular promo shots of bands where they stand there in their T-shirts and -- I don't know -- watch the sky. I mean, what's up? I mean <huh huh>, I wanna see something interesting. I don't watch any movies where nothing's happening, you know? I mean, I wanna see some images and I wanna get somehow impressed, or shocked, or whatever; that's the reason why I like the better movies more.

CoC: Unlike a lot of bands who just put the emphasis on the music, you put the emphasis on the whole image and the whole...

AW: The music is important too, of course, sure, but it must... I think to release a CD or to make a band...

CoC: Come alive?

AW: No, umm, everything is important, you know: the artwork, the presentation of the whole thing, the images, the live presentation. Everything. I mean, it's a whole: the art is the whole thing, if it's perfectly done, you know. Not like, "I do good music, but everything else I don't care." I mean, that's to less, I think. At least for us...

CoC: How much is all the stuff you put in fantasy and made up, to you? For example, on _CMB_ you covered a lot of S&M and deviant sex and things: how much of that is part of what you are like as people, and how much of it is just an image, or whatever?

AW: Aw <a huh>, that's hard to say. I mean, with _Club Mondo..._ or with all records?

CoC: With _Club Mondo..._ in particular. I was just sort of focusing on that because that's the kind of thing you could do without...

AW: <hah huh huh huh huh>

CoC: Well, some of it, without being arrested.

AW: OK, I got you, yeah. Umm. Well ummm... I like many things, you know, but there are many things also included which are just too... maybe not too extreme, but which are not my kind of interests, you know? It's half and half, you know; it's hard to say. But Martin, I don't know. He used to love the shit movies. He was totally obsessed with it. I don't know what he's doing at home. You have to ask him. It's not exactly my cup of tea, but, you know, it's OK. I mean, I can watch it, of course, but I am not an -experienced- person.

CoC: What are the lyrics to "Viva il Vaticano" about?

AW: Well, look at the Vatican, I mean, there are so many stories you could write about it. It's unbelievable what is happening there. And I'm very sure that we get maybe one percent in the news, and ninety-nine percent gets by. This year I saw in the news -- I heard it once -- that finally after -years- of trying to hide the story, it came out that loads of Vatican priests raped -- I don't know -- -hundreds- of nuns in Africa. You know, missionaries. And they tried to hide this ridiculous story for two or three years, but this year it came out somehow -- and it was a week in the news and then it was gone. And I thought it was unbelievable and it just gave me the idea of the Vatican, how sick and twisted it is. And now this black guy, this preacher -- you remember him? He married this Chinese girl and then he went to this "moon sect" and he married there and then they tried to get him back in the Vatican, and they got him back and then he said he doesn't want to leave the Vatican anymore and doesn't want to see his wife. I mean, it's unbelievable! It's decadence! Pure decadence since the beginning! And I was also in the Vatican this year and I visited everything and I loved it there. I mean, even the visual decadence is great there, yeah? And then it gave me the idea for these lyrics and then I just wrote a story about what could be, you know, possible, and what my imagination is telling me about, you know, the boys in the Vatican, and all this. <huh huh huh> And then it's just nice rhymes and, you know, in an entertaining way.

CoC: And while you're listening to it -- if you're not vulnerable to the offensive stuff -- it is very funny, but it's also quite shocking 'cause you don't expect to hear this kind of stuff even on metal albums -- or at least you don't expect to be able to -hear- people saying it: usually they just barf out this kind of stuff.

AW: Perfect. I mean, that's exactly what we wanna do, you know?

CoC: Yeah, totally. I think it will have a really good effect live. When are you guys coming over [to the UK]?

AW: We are trying to set up our tour for April/May and, as I said before, we have had talks with Mr. Reifert and we will bring over Abscess, I guess. I mean, he said that you can have Ravenous or Abscess, whatever you want. But I think Abscess is even more known and I think they will release a new CD on Peaceville next year in the Spring, he told me. So I think it's perfect for them. We have to seek for another band. There are some which we would love to tour with. We will bring one or two over, you know, and then find maybe another support and have a nice, good tour as long as we can and wherever we can play, you know. So, I do hope we come back to England.

CoC: Yeah. Well, I certainly hope so. I'll be looking forward to seeing you.

(article submitted 14/1/2002)

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