Austrian death metal greats and masters of perversion Pungent Stench have recently reissued a series of their classic but of print albums such as For God Your Soul…For Me Your Flesh, Been Caught Buttering and Club Mondo Bizarre as well as their 2007 lost album Smut Kingdom. We had a long and informative chat with founding member Alex Wank to hear all about the reissues and the making of them, the lost album and why it’s being released eleven years later, the bands controversial album covers and controversies their music has faced, memories from the bands early days, recording in the U.K. and their friendship with Napalm Death, touring with Type O Negative and a lot more in a very informative and entertaining interview.
You have just re-released your early albums. What made you decide to re-release them now?
The band formed more than thirty years ago so this was the reason but it was overdue because most of them never got a repress since they were released and they’re much sought after and really expensive nowadays, even on CD so it was just time to do it properly and we had the unreleased record also, a huge package so I think they will get a decent release now.
Had you been asked a lot about bringing them back out, especially since they’ve been out of print?
Well, there’s been some requests over the years but different things between us kept us from finalising a deal but we contacted Plastic Head and Dissonance Records and from then on, I tried to compile them as best as I could. I had to go through a lot of stuff so it took me more than a year to get everything together because all those bonus tracks are from cassettes and I had hundreds of cassettes around and I had to through them to check, sound wise and vocal wise. It was not an enjoyable experience to be honest but I had to search for the good stuff.
Even though it was a pain to sort through all the material, did it bring back good memories, revisiting all the early stuff?
For sure. The memories are always there and always good. I just don’t enjoy listening to my old stuff. Even when we finished studio work, I never, ever listen to the record anymore because I play it so many times, rehearsed it so many times before it got recorded and then of course, played it live later on, there’s no reason for me to listen to my old record. Maybe, ten yard later you’ll have a listen. For the fans, sure but not for myself but the memories are very clear, even thirty years ago and it was great, they were good times. The beginning, the young days!
What are your main memories of recording those early albums?
Everything was totally chaotic, everything unorganised! Everything super quick, cheap and easily done. There was no budget, not from Nuclear Blast back then. In Austria we had very limited resources to record and limited possibilities for proper studios. The studios that resisted were super expensive and there was no way to go to the studio for us and Nuclear Blast couldn’t pay for one. There was a partner studio with a punk guy in the Northern part of Germany. He’d worked with some punk bands back then and they had a good deal with him so we sorted that out but we couldn’t get there, we didn’t have a driving license, no car, nothing so they sent us a driver, a fan I think from the southern part of Germany! he drove us to that studio which was really far away and we recorded for two days, one day to record and the second day to mix it, seven tracks and then he drove us back. Totally insane! Everything turned out good in the end, you know. When you think about it now though, it’s totally crazy!
It’s a lot easier these days!
I know, Been Caught Buttering was recorded on these tapes, they looked like huge video tapes and the machine changed the speed all the time so we had big problems with these things and it was a pain in the ass too. It took us so much longer but we could use the studio for as long as we wanted. We went back to the studio in Northern Germany for the full length LP and later we had the first re-release of the album in the States and we decided to remix it so we called that guy up and said can you send us the tapes, they belonged to us anyway so he sent the tape, and it was just one tape and I said there’s only seven tracks on this tape, where’s the rest and he had to admit that he reused the tape and recorded some punk bands after, to get money! The three other tracks were of course deleted, this is unbelievable! Things like that always happened to us, especially in the first few years. Crazy times!
Do you have a favourite Pungent Stench album or do they all mean something different to you in different ways?
We continued to change our style, progress, whatever you want to call it because we always wanted to do something fresh in our minds, keep our style but we always changed so they all something for my tastes. It’s the way we worked in those years and developed. In al records there are great tracks and weaker tracks maybe so it’s hard to say for me. I would answer this differently every day you know! As for the fans and as for the sales back then, of course, Been Caught Buttering was probably our strongest effort.
That was the album that got me into the band and the more brutal death metal stuff initially, I remember seeing the album cover and being blown away!
Yes, it’s the perfect album for what we wanted to send our message out to everybody. The artwork was great, the concept was good, I like the sound of the record and the songs too of course and it’s probably our strongest record.
Those album covers, Been Caught Buttering being a prime example of being both striking and macabre, how did you come into contact with Joel Peter Witkin whose art adorned those covers?
I was in touch with him because I lived his art. I actually met him years ago, for the first time in person in Vienna, but I was the one who was in touch with home back then. He’s a great guy, really, really funny guy. He had a little exhibition and it was interesting to meet the guy in person, I never thought I would ever meet him so that was a nice opportunity, probably a out six or seven years ago.
Did he use your album covers as part of that exhibition?
No haha! Well, the artwork from Been Caught Buttering was actually there, The Kiss it was called and you could buy it as a numbered print.
As you mentioned, you’re releasing the Smut Kingdom album as well from 2007, why is the album only being brought out now?
Well, back in 2005, I think, we spilt from Nuclear Blast on good terms but we just didn’t want to continue with them and they didn’t seem to have any interest in us. We finished with them and we had no partner but we continued to play live and we said to ourselves let’s do another record, it’s time to make a new one and then we recorded it and when it was roughly mixed, the band came to an end and because we had no obligations to anybody and it just wasn’t finished completely, it was just not taken care of and then because of that situation between us we never really talked about, worked on it or talked about releasing it but we knew it would come out some day and I think with this combination of old stuff, it’s perfect to release it now.
Were Pungent Stench ever the recipients of controversy due to your musical output, lyrical matter and the artwork of your albums?
Well, we always had problems back in the day! The first two records are still on the Index List, they call it in Germany. Content wise and graphic wise and they’re still not allowed to sell them there! It’s totally crazy, you can try to get them off that list but in our case, you know it’s easier with a movie nowadays, there are many movies on that list, the lyrical content is there and the artwork is there so I don’t think it’s possible to get it down from that list. I will not try and the record company doesn’t care either! We always had problems back then, I remember in England, luckily without any lawsuit or whatever! I remember in Australia they started to try and censor our artwork before they printed it for Nuclear Blast so we had different versions, one for the States, one for Europe and whatever. It’s nonsense to be honest! On the other side, it was promotion for us, every controversy and every scandal, whatever you want to call it is always good promotion. I never asked for it or needed it but that’s how it was back then. I don’t know if nowadays you can shock people with this kind of content, if the wrong person gets hold of it maybe. It’s always just a few people and they bring it to an institution and then they judge you, it’s not the majority you know but if the wrong person gets it and in our case it was parents. German parents and they found it in the CD collection of their son and brought it to the police and then it continued. We got a letter from a court somewhere in the South of Germany then the Institution, they wrote us a ten page statement with all the reasons that is was forbidden to sell and deal with.
Like you said, it’s all promotion!
Well yes, it is all promotion but it was hard to get from Germans then. Back then it was a mail order system but nowadays with the internet, everybody can order it anyway or download it! You can’t get forbidden stuff nowadays like you could many years ago.
Your lyrics always had an element of comedy to them albeit a very black comedy. Did you always want to inject a sense of humour into the music of Pungent Stench alongside the brutality?
I wouldn’t call it humour, I never thought that we were a funny band but of course, we were a bit in a sarcastic way. I had my laughs of course but I never wanted it to be a comedy band, this was not my goal. Most of the things we dealt with had an influence from real life, just written and presented in a very extreme version of course but there were always some hints, absolutely. I don’t think we were too much of a black humour band as a cynical and sarcastic band. We had a very big Viennese touch to us and Viennese people are very into that way.
Your first demo tape Mucous Secretion was released thirty years ago. Do you have good memories of that time and does it seem like thirty years ago?
It’s crazy yeah and I remember everything. I had a band in 86/87 and Martin, the guitarist from Pungent, we shared a room together and he wasn’t even in a band. Our guitarist was a strange guy, he sometimes didn’t show up so I asked Martin to join us and then we sometimes played as a five piece, or a four piece without our real guitarist and it turned out that the band had no real future anyway so when we split up, I continued with him and it was 1987. We lost our room and it wasn’t easy to find somewhere to play and practice and even to find people, there was nobody interested or who even know about the stuff we were into. There was no vinyl released, this was only a tape trading scene, it was totally underground so it was very hard to get it rolling again but then we met our bassist and he had his own band and their own room. They were playing Voivod style music and had a good sound and that’s the reason I asked him to join our band so that’s how it started, it was in secrecy at first, he didn’t have the guts to tell the others! We rehearsed in the afternoon and then his other band would rehearse in the evening! Totally crazy. We wrote ten songs and they ended up on the split, it happened so fast! It went really quick and soon after we recorded that tape and we basically made a live recording. It turned out good for that time and we sent some to magazines, traded it and copied it and then the ball started rolling, and then we did our next recording which was in England.
What led you to record that second demo in England?
It’s a funny story! I met the Napalm Death guys in 87 at a German show, I knew the Napalm Death guys from the tape trading scene, I think it was even before they released their first record and the first and I was in, the only show we played abroad, we hitchhiked to Munich in this youth centre to see these guys and we became good friends and they invited me to England and I said would come and I did! I hitchhiked to England and stayed at Mick Harris’s house and stayed at Lee Dorrians house in Coventry. I visited Bill Steer in Liverpool. I hitchhiked around, went to shows with them and this was in 1987. When Pungent started, I did a show for Extreme Noise Terror in Vienna and Mick and Shame Embury came with them in the van because they had nothing to do and then in 88, I said to my guys, I’m going to go back to England to have some fun and see these people so why don’t you also come and they said yes, first of all for a holiday to the seaside, to Croatia or somewhere and then we’ll come later on to England. So I came to England solo and I knew that Napalm Death we’re finishing From Enslavement To Obliteration in a little studio called Birdsong in Worcester and they did the final mix there. I arrived and they picked me up and I ended up watching them mix it in the studio and I was blown away by the sound of course! I said “wow, can I book the studio for the day, or two?” And the guy said yes I have time and then I tried to reach my guys and told them I’ve booked the day in the studio for the recording and we will record the first studio demo tape there in that studio, it’s brilliant and the sound is so great. We can rent the equipment there, you can just come. We went there with Mick and we recorded four tracks in one day and we wanted to use them as a demo tape, our first real demo tape to find a deal. We didn’t even pay the full amount because we didn’t have enough money so we just had a cassette and not the original tapes! We had to pay more later to get the tapes but before we could do this, I got an offer from Nuclear Blast and they said we’ll send you to the studio for new recordings, the tracks you have are too short so it was never released as a tape because of that and we then had a deal anyway and went to a studio in Germany in Spring 89 to record. Nuclear Blast though, needed something else quick to release first and I said with the demo tape from England, it’s wrong not to release it, some tracks are the same but it’s got a different sound and maybe differently played so let’s do it and because the tape was too long, they put just three songs on the EP Split Deformity which was released after but of course, recorded the year before. I, stupidly, gave the guy from Nuclear Blast the one and only cassette I had, I didn’t make a copy and when we made the EP, the tape went back to him and he lost it! That track, we did record it later on for For God Your Soul…For Me Your Flesh but the original version is gone of course! It’s the destiny of us losing recordings but that’s how it was, super quickly done.
And raw, it had a raw feel to it!
It was a raw sound, yes. The equipment was ok but it was live takes as usual. Three, four records were live takes.
That’s crazy! I used to work in Worcester and never knew that Pungent Stench and Napalm Death both recorded there!
I can’t even remember where it was! I went to Birmingham and travelled with Mick there and it was a lot smaller town! I hitchhiked over, it’s crazy, just to record for that one day! Unbelievable, but good times! It was an experience that you only have once in your lifetime. That’s your youth, you just don’t give a shit and you just do it. You have your little goal and then you try and reach it step by step. That’s the best memories you can have.
Your first demo, going back to that, had dialogue from the first Evil Dead film. Were you big horror film buffs back then and are you still now?
Oh yes, we were always influenced by films and back then, of course, horror films. It was just an insane part of that movie sound wise and with the insanity of the tape, it’s perfect. Back then, the film wasn’t that big, not that many people know about it as they did later on and I think it was the perfect intro to that tape.
Are you still as big into horror films these days?
Yeah, sure. I even run a film company. I do an HD restoration of old Italian movies and release them on Blu-Ray. It’s not only horror but also crime movies and trash movies. I release them for the German, Austrian and Swiss markets. I try to get old reels from cinemas if the version was different in Germany and try to get trailers and Super 8 versions and featurettes in Rome with people involved in the film, if they are still alive! I’ve been doing this for a number of years and it’s great to work with this material. It’s great to work with these people.
You played with everyone from Carcass to Extreme Noise Terror to Type O Negative amongst others, what do you remember about playing with those bands?
I knew the Carcass guys personally because of my visits to England and Bill was a very friendly guy. When Carcass did their first European tour, A German guy from Atrocity booked the tour and he was friendly with me too so he asked if we could do a show in Vienna and I said sure. They played in the Czech Republic the next day and they asked if we wanted to play that also and we ended up playing three shows on this tour. It was a good experience. Don’t forget, it was a friendship thing, we all knew each other, we all liked each other, we had fun and we were all around the same age. Extreme Noise Terror, we never toured with but I booked shows for them. I knew them because of Mick Harris, he said I also play in Extreme Noise Terror in drums at the moment, why don’t you join me on tour. When I came over before, I stayed at Phil Vanes house who is sadly no longer with us. It was for shows in Vienna. I started to book shows and the first was Extreme Noise Terror in 1988 and I had fun with them of course, it as a great first time live promoting experience! Type O Negative was a different thing, this was back in 91. They had just released Slow, Deep And Hard and a German agency booked their European tour and he booked an English opening band called Cerebral Fix and they decided not to support them on tour, I don’t know why. I don’t remember the reason and we got on the tour. We had just released Been Caught Buttering and just had done a European tour, a little headlining tour especially in Germany, great shows and great crowds and it was a three week tour. Just before we left for the tour, we got the offer for the Type O Negative tour which was a month after our tour and we said of course. We had a new album and of course we love Type O Negative, we loved Carnivore, absolutely! We were huge Carnivore fans, we tried to play Carnivore tracks when we were very young. They were a huge influence on Pungent too you know, the attitude! We did that tour, we met those guys and they were very nice guys but they had problems of course. Type O Negative had problems because they had shows cancelled in Germany, especially in cities where the left was very strong because of the lyrics from Carnivore. Race War and whatever, Jesus Hitler. Type O, they didn’t like that attitude, they wrongly thought they were Nazis! Shows got cancelled in Hamburg and Berlin, there was a bomb threat in Stuttgart , they had to leave the venue and continue playing after. They had cancellations in Holland also. It was a pain in the ass! It was a three week tour and we played maybe ten to fifteen times! Peter was really pissed off, he left earlier than the rest of the guys. It was a bit of a disaster but for us, it was great! We got to play shows, we saw Type O ten to fifteen times live! They even played, at one of the shows, a Carnivore track. Back then, it was not usual for them to do this because he wanted to distance himself from the Carnivore stuff. He did Carnivore shows much later but he didn’t want to have Carnivore into Type O but he did for us and our guests. For the Germans, it was his answer to Germany you know! It was great, it was an extremely good experience for us me but different. The Europeans and the Americans. They became good friends with us, they helped us out when we came to New York and America. We stayed at Josh’s house and it was such a good experience to meet them. I met them later again later on when I booked a huge show in Vienna in the late 90s, a really huge venue. It’s really sad, what can I say about Peter. They’re one of the very few bands who have such a style of their own. Peter Steele was such a good songwriter and singer, and such a charismatic person, he could have done so much more but I suppose it was perfect for him to do things exactly as he did! It’s also a part of him and the band, but still sad you know.
Are you still a big fan of death metal and metal in general today?
No, I’m not following or listening to anything new, it doesn’t really bother me at all. I have a lot of different interests, always have. I drifted away from the metal scene already. I do enjoy stuff of course, from my days. I go back, I love the 70s, early 70s especially. The essential stuff was made there but of course I do enjoy my youth, my 80s stuff. Old British metal, the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. That’s great stuff. Judas Priest of course were always the metal band for me back in the day. British Steel is the ultimate metal record ever. It’s just so heavy and it’s everything what heavy metal needs! It’s not too melodic like Iron Maiden or something, I never like them too much. It’s somehow raw and direct. A strong singer and it’s good that’s he’s a homosexual guy because it makes him this icon with his image. I didn’t even know back then and I didn’t care, of course it makes sense now and makes it even more metal! I just listened to the new one and it’s pretty good, it’s a solid record. I really didn’t like two before. The old stuff, 70s, 80s Metal will work for me until I die but the stuff nowadays, what should I find? It’s always repeating itself and I don’t like the production nowadays. I’m more the analogue guy you know. It’s all overproduced and it just doesn’t have anything for me. I like it raw and wild!
How metal should be!
You understand! For a young guy, why would he? I like the dirty, raw recording. If you grow up with the stuff nowadays then you’re used to it but of course they don’t understand why you like the old stuff.
The band broke up in 2007. Will the original Pungent Stench ever get back together, even for a one off show or is it completely dead and buried?
We split up before in 1995 don’t forget, we never spoke or called each other, that’s the reason why it ended. I wouldn’t enjoy myself, not only because of the other person. It’s changed completely and I have so many other things to do and so many other interests. It’s not the money, that’s wouldn’t get me to do it, I just don’t feel comfortable in that scene anymore because it’s not that scene anymore. It’s not those times anymore. I hate when bands get together and say it’s all good, they do it only for the money, come on! Don’t bullshit the people! I would prefer for someone to say, I needed the cash, it would be much better! Most of them do it just for the cash anyway and I don’t want to be a person who is 65 playing Extreme Deformity or whatever! This is hilarious! Back then, it was sudden and the best point of what to do but now and even later on I would not enjoy myself doing that stuff. It’s over and you should know when it’s over.
Thanks Alex, that’s been amazing and it’s been great listening to all the Pungent Stench reissues. For anyone who is interested in your film restoration work what is the website address?
Thank you, it’s www.cineploit.com and you will find everything there. It’s also the name of my record label. I have a record label for cinematic music and there you will find all the information for that. All the best.