Robot Fingers: An Interview with Christian Münzner
Many of you are familiar with the wizardry of guitarist Christian Münzner from bands such as Obscura, Alkaloid, Necrophagist, and/or Eternity’s End. An industrious and diligent member of the European metal scene, Christian has played in an overwhelming number of bands, as well as guested on an even more staggering number of tracks. Recently, I got the opportunity to ask him some questions about his career, personal motivation, his thoughts on music trends, as well as some
dumb highly introspective questions asked by our editors.
Randall: Thanks for doing this interview! To start us off, why don’t you let everyone know about the current projects you’re working on?
Christian Münzner: Well, I’m basically involved in 3 different active bands/projects right now, those being Alkaloid, Eternity’s End, and my instrumental solo stuff. I’ve actually been recording 3 albums within the last 2 years, so right now I’m not working on a specific new project in depths as I’m quite busy with lots of other administrational activities, teaching and session recordings. We’re basically working on getting Eternity’s End on the stage and we’ll see how that goes. We’re planning to start recording a 2nd Alkaloid album hopefully later this year. I’m constantly writing though whenever I have an idea, so I’m collecting riffs and ideas for a potential 2nd Eternity’s End CD as well, and I’m planning an instrumental fusion project with Alkaloid guitarist Danny Tunker and we’re collecting ideas for that as well. Not sure if there will be a new Spawn Of Possession album some day or not and if they would like to record it with me, but I’d be totally up for that too if it ever happens.
A lot of people recognize you for your work in technical death metal, but you’ve played in a large number of heavy and power metal bands over the years as well. What factors in to your decision to create or join a band?
That’s an interesting question. I guess the most basic answer is that I have to like the music, and I have to like the songs. I like many different subgenres of metal, heavy metal and power metal certainly being my favorites, but I like a lot of technical death metal stuff as well, and also Thrash, Prog, Doom, classic Hard Rock and even Hair Metal. Many bands I am or was in are bands I was a huge fan of before, like Necrophagist, Paradox, and Spawn Of Possession. My decision to join Obscura and later on Alkaloid was that it gave me the chance to work with musicians I admire and with whom I connect creatively, and that those bands would also give me the chance to put my own stamp on the music and allow me a lot of creative freedom. So it’s basically that I have to like the music, and the people, and have an outlet for my own creativity. Since I like many different genres this isn’t just restricted to one specific subgenre for me. Power Metal and Tech Death are usually the most exciting genres for me in a band situation.
Do you find yourself approaching songwriting with specific techniques in mind, or is it more of a natural progression?
It can be both. Very often it’s a natural progression that I come up with a specific riff, chord progression, melodic theme or rhythm and when I really like it it inspires me and things fall into place naturally. But there are also specific techniques that I use at times to trigger ideas and come up with them. Usually when I have a very strong part that’s the starting point for me, then I figure out the tempo and set this and try to expand it from there. Often when I have a strong part I can already hear the next part in my head and the rest follows easily, but sometimes I take a more analytical approach, by trying out key changes, specific techniques to come up with nice chord progressions, or just brain storming, which usually leads to 90% of crap which I throw away, but the 10% that remain are totally worth the effort.
You have offered guest solos as crowdfunding rewards in the past, and you also teach guitar. How easy is it to access you for either? Have either the guest solos or lessons influenced you or your writing?
It is very easy to approach me for either. You can just contact me on my official Facebook page. Yeah, everything I do influences my own approach to writing as well. Often I come up with ideas when explaining specific concepts to a student, and when I do guest solo very often the sections I play over are quite different from the parts I give myself in my own music, and it triggers a different way of thinking, which later on influences my general approach to my own writing as well at times, either consciously or subconsciously. Especially the guest soloing keeps me improving and developing my soloing skills and my melodic vocabulary, as outside of that I’m way more interested in composition and song writing than actual guitar soloing these days, so it’s a very healthy addition to keep everything in balance.
Do you farm your own real-life experiences and thoughts as inspiration for lyrics? If so, what are some examples of this that you’re willing to share?
Writing lyrics for the Eternity’s End album was the first time that I ever wrote lyrics for an album, and yes, some of the lyrics deal in fact with some very personal experiences and my world view and philosophy that I’ve become to adapt in recent years. For example the title track of the album is a metaphoric fantasy story of a warrior who gets wounded and on the deathbed is faced with the decision to give up or to continue fighting. It is metaphoric for real life situations how to deal with setbacks. It was inspired by my own issues with the focal dystonia and how I felt when I first got diagnosed, and how I chose to keep going instead of giving in. Songs like “Eagle Divine” and “Chains Of The Earth” deal with breaking free from oppression, like from oppressive ideologies, societies or personal surroundings, things that I only experienced a little in personal and professional situations, it’s rather inspired by what some people who are dear to me have to or had to go through and whose stories and bravery inspired my view of the world. “The Hourglass” deals with following your own visions and dreams in life and not living according to anybody else’s wishes or ideas, something that many people never fully dare to do, and something which was a big turning point in my own life once I realised it.
Some describe the more technical genres as often being “soulless” or “mechanical.” Would you agree with this criticism?
I wouldn’t generalize it like that. Just because something is technical doesn’t have to mean that it’s soulless at the same time. You can be a technically proficient player and be very knowledgeable about music theory, harmony and rhythm and still convey the same emotion through your music, and you could be uneducated and unskilled and write music that touches no one. Music can be soulful, it can be technical, it can be both at the same time or it can be none. However, I do agree that recently a lot of music that is labelled technical does not appeal to me too much with technicality being the main factor. Songwriting and the feelings transmitted through the music are always more important to me. Technicality can’t make up for a lack of any of those attributes. I especially get tired of a lot of modern tech death stuff which seems to have the only purpose to showcase the musicians‘ motor skills, while completely ignoring thoughtful chord progressions, melodic sensitivity and atmosphere. Give me one band like Mercyful Fate over 1000 of those 8th note string skipping exercise bands any day.
At what point during your ordeals with focal dystonia did you know it was time to take more serious steps, such as leaving Obscura, to address your condition?
CM: I think I knew right from the beginning when I was diagnosed that the time would come for me to change something about my lifestyle in order to be able to go on a journey to improve my condition, but I was in denial for quite a while. We had just released Omnivium and the band was on a commercial peak, we got amazing offers and were touring world wide, I was basically doing what I worked for for so many years and didn’t just want to throw it away. Touring and playing shows just got more and more exhausting to me though because of the dystonia, also emotionally and because of the energy required to maintain a highly technical playing level every night with the loss of natural movement in my fretting hand. When the touring cycle was over and my schedule became more quiet I was able to immensely improve my condition, not to the point of recovery, but to a point that I can play stuff I hadn’t been able to do anymore for many years. I noticed I’m on a path in the right direction, and I did not want to risk it for another 5 month touring cycle. Basically my playing on the last 3 albums I recorded (my 2nd solo album, the Alkaloid debut and the Eternity’s End album) is better than anything I ever recorded before. At this point I’m eager to hit the stage again, but it’s always a bit of a risk in as far that it can cause a bit of a relapse, so I always have to be very considerate which shows are worth it, I turned down quite a lot of offers in the past few years. I definitely want to play live with Eternity’s End and also do more Alkaloid shows and maybe even some more instrumental solo shows, but none of it is going to be the 5 to 8 months touring per year thing anymore.
Even dealing with focal dystonia, you’re still easily one of the best guitar players in metal today. What changes did you have to make in your technique to prevent further harm to your fingers?
At first I had to make up for the almost total loss of my middle finger, so I had to re-arrange many of the fingerings of the stuff I played. Since I was mostly a legato based player, I extended my tapping technique to using 3 fingers of my right hand as well in order to make up for the loss of left hand movement, and I figured out new ways of playing arpeggios and scales like that. Nowadays I regained some control in my middle finger, but I still stick to some of those new techniques because I figured they actually sounded better haha. I also use more slides and position shifts these days in order to avoid unnecessary wide stretches. I do a lot of re-training at home, it starts with body awareness, learning about your bone structure and being able to observe your kinesthetic sense and and your sensory reception. I also do a lot of super slow playing under a threshold before the dystonia kicks in, or stopping before it kicks in, addressing it and then continuing to play. I’ve made some good progress with that so far.
We are in the midst of a digital age where bands can write entire albums digitally, even if they are unable to play them, using tools like Guitar Pro and audio emulation / VSTs. Do you take advantage of any tools like this? Do you think these tools are more helpful or harmful to musicians?
Well, I’ve been using Guitar Pro to write for more than 10 years now. I do not use it for everything though, since Timewarp I’m always recording demo versions of each song before the actual album recordings take place. It’s a very useful tool to arrange the songs for the various instruments, to experiment with different song structures and to check out what certain harmonies sound like with technically challenging parts before you practice them, instead of finding out that they don’t work after you invested hours into practicing them. It does not work for everything though; Guitar Pro usually sounds good when you have a lot of notes, rather simple riffs or melodies don’t quite come out in it. I always write, for example, the themes in my instrumental tunes or the vocal melodies in Eternity’s End on the guitar and keep recordings of the ideas. So I basically just use it for structuring and arranging the songs.
I never use audio emulation or things of that kind unless it’s for specific keyboard pads which I sometimes resample from midi. I’m not a purist though. Of course we use digital recording software like everyone else and I would not want to miss the advantages anymore, since I still remember a time when we were recording demos on tape where you only have a couple of chances to do something and call it a day. I understand that some people don’t like the fact that nowadays you can basically do note for note recording and thus people who can’t play their stuff at all can basically fake it, but I can usually hear when things are recorded like that as it does not sound real. We always try to keep things as real and dynamic as possible also when recording, but this the whole band playing and recording everything live on tape approach that might work nicely for 70’s type hard rock stuff just does not work with the highly fast technical power metal, death metal or instrumental stuff when being a perfectionist like I am, the music is just too detailed for that approach. The worst is if a great idea doesn’t come out as it was originally intended just because someone had a bad day in the studio. It’s most important that the vision of the composer comes out 100% when making an album. As long as the end result sounds as good as it possibly can I see nothing wrong with modern recording technologies and I don’t really care if someone needed 1 or 500 takes to get it down as long as it sounds good in the end. I have a bigger problem with the sound aesthetics that result from it. All those note for note recorded tech death albums sound really unmusical and undynamic to my ears, and it’s often shameful to see bands who can’t pull off their material live fail desperately on stage.
So to answer the initial question, it basically depends for me. If you’re a skillful musician who knows his stuff the modern technology can be of great use to your advantage and to help you realize your vision. If you’re not ready and skilled enough yet to record an album and you use those tools just to fake it, this will result in a lot of low quality output that is produced fine but just lacks substance, which is something we see these days as well. I believe those technologies are responsible for as much great stuff that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise as they are for bad or mediocre releases.
What plans do you have in store for the rest of 2016 and beyond?
I’ll keep working on improving my hand condition if possible, and I want to bring Eternity’s End to the stage maybe this summer or fall or the latest next year. And of course I’m constantly writing new music. I’m collecting material for a potential next Eternity’s End album, a new Alkaloid album will be recorded hopefully later this year, I have a lot of session work and guest solos lined up and I might do some more instrumental stuff as well. No time pressure right now with that though, I’ll just give it the time necessary and see how things fall into place. I’m also planning to put together a tab book for my first instrumental solo album Timewarp.
Do you have little nanobots living in your fingers? Is that why you’re so perfect?
Yes, indeed. When I was 7 I got abducted by American intelligence services who intended to create the ultimate lead guitar player to be prepared for a potential alien invasion in case a guitar duel would be necessary, so I was artificially improved. I’ve also got nanobots living in some other body parts where they give me super human powers, but I cannot talk publicly about that.
Have you ever wanted to just palm mute for 2 minutes and thirty seconds and just call it a day?
Yes, many times. I never managed to just stop after that time though since palm muting gives me such a feeling of moral superiority and mental stability that it’s addictive like a drug.
What’s your favorite shampoo / conditioner?
My own creation of the ultimate super shampoo. I basically create it by putting all the remains of each almost empty shampoo in the shower into one bottle before putting it on my head.
Huge thanks to Christian for talking with us! Stay up to date with him on his official Facebook page.