Martin Schirenc about the story of Pungent Stench
Considering the great death metal blossom in Europe, Sweden, Finland, England and The Netherlands are coming in fans’ minds in the first place. Besides them, in Germany and in Austria existed death metal bands as well, but they didn’t play any important role later on. Austria’s Pungent Stench was one of the best outfits during those times, their debut album For God Your Soul…For Me Your Flesh was one of the best releases back in 1990. Former guitarist/vocalist Martin Schirenc gave us his views on this classic, death metal monster.
So Martin, Pungent Stench began in late 1987 when you on guitars/vocals and Alex Wank on drums from Carnage got together to form a new band. How did that happen?
Alex and my band shared a rehearsal space and I helped Carnage out as a second guitarist, back in 1986. Both our bands fell eventually apart, as members kept leaving, so we decided to form a new band together. By the end of 1987, we found a like minded bass player in Jacek Perkowski and started to write songs in the beginning of 1988.
What were your influences, your musical background as a whole?
Metal and punk from the 70’s and 80’s, mainly. Venom and Hellhammer/Celtic Frost was a big influence, as well as Discharge, Repulsion and Heresy. But we also were into noise rock such as the Swans.
Was the Austrian underground metal scene in its infancy those days?
Yeah, it was rather small and most of the existing bands played less extreme music than we did.
How about Maniac or Blind Petition? Were they rather mainstream compared to you?
Maniac was a classic 80’s power metal band and Blind Petition did (and still do) that heavy southern rock kind of thing. We wanted to do something completely different and there wasn’t much going on in this regard, back then in Austria.
You recruited Jacek Perkowski for the bass player position after months of searching. Was it hard to find enthusiastic/engaged musicians for an extreme metal band in Austria at this point?
Given the situation Austria was in during the 80’s, it was extremely hard to find musicians that shared our musical taste. There weren’t many musicians to begin with and then try to to find one how’s heard of Death Strike or NYC Mayhem! Jacek was in a band named Overreaction O.C., which sounded a bit like Voivod and he had this violent bass sound we were looking for. Luckily, he was a great guy, too, so we asked him to join us and he did!
What made you using pseudonyms such as Don Cochino, Rector Stench and Pittbull Jack?
By February 1988 the trio started rehearsing together. Did you aspire to write originals or were you jamming mostly on covers?
We wanted to write our original material, but we did throw in some covers at live shows.
Barely a month in existence the band had already composed 10 songs and by April 1988 you recorded your first demo tape, Mucous Secretion that was recorded live in your rehearsal room. Was it your first recording experience?
Yes, we were on a roll, back then! Songs just kept coming to us and we had a lot of fun writing them. The demo was recorded on a ghetto blaster in our rehearsal room, just as we did when writing new songs, so we won’t forget them. Carnage has been to a recording studio to record a demo, before, but it turned out so poorly, that we didn’t bother spending money on our tape. The results we got in the rehearsal room were so raw and brutal that we decided to do it that way, instead.
Mucous Secretion featured 5 tracks plus an intro taken out of the first The Evil Dead movie. Did it really represent what you wanted to achieve the band with?
Yes, we were happy with it. Probably even happier than with any other recording we did afterwards. Our tape trading ears were used to often copied and well worn cassette tapes, so that was the sound we were going for and we nailed it!
The tape got very positive reactions from the tape trading community. Does it mean that it was shopped around a lot? Were you aware of the importance of the tape trading/fanzine network?
Of course we did, because that’s how we got to know all these amazing bands that nobody has heard of. The community was a great way to spread your music, before we had the internet and it was an exciting time to learn about new bands. Eventually, that’s what got us our first record deal with Nuclear Blast!
In July 1988 you travelled to England to record your second demo. What can you tell us about this tape?
We hitch hiked to England to record our first studio demo and we crashed on the couches of Mitch and Lee from Napalm Death so we could afford to pay for the studio. It was a new experience for us and it was almost unreal to hear your own music like this!
Is it true that Alex Wank was a guest at the mixing process of Napalm Death’s sophomore album From Enslavement to Obliteration, at the Birdsong Studios in Worcester and after that he booked 2 days for Pungent Stench in the same studio?
Pretty much, yes.
Did Alex help a lot to develop the band’s own and unique sound at this point?
The sound was the result of three guy playing their favorite music, so yes, he did have a big influence on our style.
You had plans to release this demo in a professional manner, with a printed cover and manufactured tapes, but before the manufacturing process began Pungent Stench got an offer by Nuclear Blast, correct? Were there any other label’s interests in the band around this time?
We had plans to do it that way, but unfortunately the guy at Birdsong Studios recorded over the master tape and deleted our mix! He remixed it, but we we’re not happy with the results, so we didn’t want to release it that way. Well and then came the offer from Nuclear Blast, which was the only label in us, as far as I know. They were probably also the only label aware of us, then.
By the way, were you one of the very first signings of the label that were a very tiny, underground one at this time?
Yes, that’s true. Nuclear Blast have licensed some US albums for the European market at that time, but we were one of their first own signings.
Pungent Stench happened to play close by Nuclear Blast’s hometown, Donzdorf and the label’s staff had already heard about the band and sent someone to watch your show and express the record company’s interest in the group, right?
We did some shows with Disharmonic Orchestra when Slatko Dolic, who was working for Nuclear Blast, came to one of them. He knew our rehearsal demo, as well as the recordings we did in England and he offered both our bands a deal for a split LP, which we gladly accepted.
You signed the contract in April 1989 and your first release for Nuclear Blast, a split album with fellow Austrian death metallers Disharmonic Orchestra came out in June. What do you recall of it?
It was beyond our wildest dreams to have a record deal! We went to the studio to record our part in 2 days and Disharmonic did theirs in the other 2 days at the same studio. I drew the cover artwork for our side and Patrick’s (DO singer) brother painted theirs. It was all done very quickly, back then.
Was the record reasonably successful, moving more than 4,000 units in less than a year?
It was and that’s why Nuclear Blast signed us for 3 more full albums.
It was followed by the Extreme Deformity 7” vinyl EP, featuring three tracks from your unreleased demo, came out in September 1989…
The label wanted to release it to fill the gap between the split LP and our first full length album, but since the original masters were lost, we had to use the cassette tapes to print the EP from.
During December 1989, you entered the Masterplan Studios, Hildesheim to record your first album. Were you prepared to record the album?
Not at all! We hadn’t written half of the album, a week before the recording, so we were forced to write one song a day and finish some of the lyrics in the studio, but it worked out, in the end.
How did the recording sessions go?
Chaotic! We had ten days for the album and needed 9 for the recordings, which left us with only one day for the entire mix. We had to work all night and in the end, I hated the album so much that it took me about a month, before I could listen to it, again. And then I hated it even more! But it grew on me, eventually, and now I can appreciate the album for what it is.
For God Your Soul… For Me Your Flesh was released in April 1990 and was described as a raw and primitive stuff that shows the band’s favoring simple song structures and visceral, demented aggression over technical proficiency and over-complicated soloing. How would you explain this?
I agree with the description and Metal Hammer even called it a contender for the heaviest album of all times! I think we succeeded after all!
In your opinion, was 1990 a year where death metal really started to blossom around the world?
Bands kept popping up left and right as the labels recognized the commercial potential of this music style. I can’t remember which year it exploded, but by the mid 90’s even major labels signed a few death metal acts. That’s how successful this genre has become!
Is this album just raw and aggressive, but at the same time highly memorable?
It’s very catchy, in my opinion and that’s probably a big part of its appeal. People can sing along with it.
Are the simplicity of songs like A Small Lunch and Blood, Pus and Gastric Juice perfect reminders as to why primitive, early death metal is indeed the best way to make this kind of music?
It was my idea of death metal, which is an amalgam of punk’s rawness played with the sound of metal. Simple song structures, massive guitars and vocals stripped of any melodies, which is a rather minimalistic approach to maximize the musical energy.
How do you view that the band is old-school death metal with shades of experimentation thrown in to keep the mix interesting?
We all had a wide spectrum of musical tastes, which went far beyond death metal and we wanted to include these influences in our music. Foremost, to keep it interesting for ourselves because the possibilities in death metal are somewhat limited and I get bored, easily.
Do you agree with that Pungent Stench always had a certain sick kind of humor which worked well with their filthy music?
Absolutely! That’s reflecting our personalities and makes the lyrics even more bizarre, as they mainly dealt with horrific topics that shouldn’t normally be a laughing matter. That made us very unique a musical genre that usually tends to be on the more serious side. The reason it worked is, that it wasn’t a light-hearted type of humor that makes people chuckle. It’s harsh and relentless. Kind a like a Holocaust joke that makes you feel guilty because you laughed about it.
Did the band on this album keep its grindcore elements, while the death metal influences started having a more dominant presence on this recording?
We didn’t really differentiate between these labels, as it was our idea of extreme music and we always considered Pungent Stench to be a death metal band. Nothing was planned and things just happened as we went along.
Your vocals are reminiscent of John Tardy, aren’t they?
Hm, that’s actually the first time I’ve heard that about my voice and I can’t say I agree with that comparison. Both John and I, don’t growl like singers such as Chris Barnes do, but that’s where the similarities end, in my opinion. But what do I know, since it’s really hard to be objective about ones own voice, anyway.
Did the raw and unpolished production give the music a filthy sound?
Of course! The sound played a big part in the filth department and gave the music its charm. Although, much of this was the result of low recording budgets and very little time in the studio. We didn’t purposely go for shitty, you know?
What were the shows/tours in support of the album? How did they go as a whole?
We did a large tour through Europe together with Master and Abomination, which was a great experience for all of us. Also very exhausting, but we got to see lots of new places and play in front of many people. It did boost the album sales quite a bit and made it more successful than anyone of us would ever have expected, including Nuclear Blast Records!
Would you say that Pungent Stench should have been up there with Hypocrisy, Dismember and the rest of the more well-known bands of that era?
I thought we were? Anyway, I’m happy with whatever we’ve accomplished and we’re exactly where we deserved to be!
Martin, thanks a lot for your answers! What are your closing words?
Thanks for the interview and support and if anybody wants to hear our music played live, look out for „Schirenc plays Pungent Stench“, which is me and two other freaks doing what the cumbersome band name implies!