February 26, 2023 Interview – Martin Engler of Mono Inc.
Giving up was never an option! With 23 years under its musical bootstraps, Germany’s Mono Inc. has weathered the ups and downs of its lengthy career with grace. Consistent and prolific, the group has delivered fans a total of twelve full-length studio albums, with their most recent pair, 2020’s The Book of Fire and 2023’s Ravenblack, hitting No. 1 in their homeland. But their message of love and community can hardly be stopped by the harsh waves of the Atlantic Ocean, and they are just as appreciated across the globe as back home in Europe.
Recently, founding member Martin Engler, who is also the quartet’s main songwriter and producer, as well as frontman, sat down to discuss Ravenblack, which arrived on January 27, 2023, via NoCut Entertainment. From performing in North America to how he spent his forced time off, to writing songs in his native tongue, Engler offered time to pick his brain about the workings behind one of 2023’s brightest offerings.
Cryptic Rock – For many people across the globe, the past few years have been a roller coaster, but for Mono Inc., there have been some incredible highs. Obviously, 2020’s The Book of Fire went to No. 1 in Germany, and now Ravenblack has netted a second consecutive No. 1. How is the band feeling and what is the prevailing mentality at the moment?
Martin Engler – For us, too, the last three years have been a roller coaster. After all, The Book of Fire came before the Corona madness and Ravenblack after it. We, therefore, had the same feelings as many others but we have always tried to look positively to the future. Giving up is never an option!
Cryptic Rock – Does having two consecutive No. 1 albums put any pressure on you to continue the trend, and to go out and present a massive tour in support of the album?
Martin Engler – Of course, it doesn’t reduce the pressure of expectation for a new album, but now we’re not thinking about a new album. We’re dying to go on tour with the new material.
Cryptic Rock – To dig a little deeper into Ravenblack, let us start with the obvious: Why choose the raven as a recurring theme?
Martin Engler – The raven has been the band’s emblem since 2010’s album Viva Hades. Our fan club calls itself the “Raven community.” So this will be inseparable until the end of our days—similar to Eddie from Iron Maiden.
Cryptic Rock – Ravens are much more attractive than Eddie! (Laughs) Getting back to the album, there is this sense of offering a community and a home for outsiders that resonates throughout the album. Similarly, “Ravenblack,” the song, provides echoes of “Children of the Dark.” What was it that inspired the idea of providing a new anthem for your fans, or “ravens” and “crows,” as you like to call them?
Martin Engler – I didn’t even think about that when I was writing and composing. I’m only realizing that now.
Cryptic Rock – It is so sincere, and clearly an organic influence because your fans are a very integral part of Mono Inc. As Ravenblack has been available for several weeks now, what has the fan reaction been, thus far? Are there any of the deep cuts that fans seem to be favoring?
Martin Engler – The response from fans and media has been great. But, of course, it’s only a matter of time before the first haters come around the corner and think it sucks. The good thing is that we like the album, love every single song, and don’t care what anyone else says about it. Our taste is the benchmark, nothing else.
Cryptic Rock – As Lord of the Lost so colorfully pointed out recently, there will always be ignorance online. To get back to the positive, there are quite a few nods to the band’s past on the album, not the least of which is the cover artwork that recalls 2012’s After the War. As this is your twelfth full-length, was there a need to celebrate the successes of your past or was this just something that happened organically in the studio?
Martin Engler – During the pandemic, I consistently did nothing that had to do with music, but reflected and thought a lot, and otherwise spent time with my son on the beach. I think that’s why everything on Ravenblack is going to the core of Mono Inc. I only noticed the common thread afterward: it deals with all the new insights I have had in the last two years of the forced break. It is, therefore, the most personal album and offers the listener the opportunity to find out a lot about the way I think and my feelings. If he wants that at all. (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – Again, fans already cling to the honesty and insight within your music, and Ravenblack is no different. Now, in the studio, you had several lovely guests. What inspired you to join forces with Storm Seeker and Sanz? And will every album contain hurdy-gurdy from here on forward? (Laughs)
Martin Engler – Our collaborations with other musicians were, so far, always coincidences. In this case, it was different: while we were working on the production of the album, we already knew that Sanz and Storm Seeker would be playing as our support bands on the Ravenblack Tour. Then I had the idea that it would be a well-rounded package if we cooperate with both acts on the album, which we can then present together live. That helps newcomer bands to achieve a higher level of awareness if they also appear during our show.
We are extremely grateful that we have this possibility by now, which we would have wished for back then in the days when we were a small band ourselves. We’ve had some unpleasant experiences as a support band and we swore back then that, when the time came, we would behave differently. We’re keeping that promise now! And since I believe in karma, something good will come back to us.
Cryptic Rock – Well, a No. 1 album is definitely a beautiful thing! Now, we must ask you about singing in English versus singing in German. As an American publication, we should probably prefer the English songs, but it feels like some of your greatest vocal passion comes across in the two German tracks—”Lieb’ Mich” and “Wiedersehen Woanders”. Do you think there will be more German material in the future, perhaps even a full album?
Martin Engler – The desire of German fans for songs in their mother tongue has been around for a very, very long time. First I had a phase where I lost interest in German lyrics, followed by a phase where we only recorded concept albums with a consistent story and a common thread; switching between the languages would not have fitted at all. The new album is not such a concept album, but ‘simply’ a collection of 11 new titles without any corset. Coincidentally, when I was composing, I came up with a German hook before an English hook, and I thought to myself that this was the way it should be then.
Cryptic Rock – So, it was fate. Either way, no matter the language, so many of your lyrics are darkly poetic, evoking romantic imagery. Do you have a favorite poet or writer?
Martin Engler – No, I don’t have a favorite poet. I can’t say where my style of writing comes from. The lyrics and melodies just flow from my heart and soul through my fingers onto the paper. I don’t have a recipe for that.
Cryptic Rock – Whatever you are doing is clearly working. In fact, we walk away from Ravenblack with an immense sense of community, but also the idea of appreciating the little things in life—particularly in finding joy in what others tend to overlook. As one of its creators, what do you hope listeners take away from their time with the album?
Martin Engler – I’ve read a lot of fan mail during the Corona years. I had time and was finally able to realize that when a fan writes that our music helps them through difficult times, it’s not just a phrase. I had always understood it as niceness, praise, or friendliness. But with this intensity of the last two years and the many stories I got to read, I have now explained to myself that this is apparently the meaning of my life: to give power, strength, and confidence to others with my music. That’s what I’m hoping for from this album, as well.
Cryptic Rock – You absolutely nailed that with this album. And now that it is out, your future is full of touring. In March, you will be playing a set of shows in Mexico, which is very exciting. Can American and Canadian fans also expect to see you on North American soil in the coming year or so?
Martin Engler – Of course, surely! We want to and will come. We love our fans all over the world, including those from North America.
Cryptic Rock – That will be guaranteed to be a great time! Hopefully, we will see you in America soon, but before we say auf Wiedersehen, one last question. The message of Mono Inc. has always been to spread “tolerance, solidarity, and love.” In times such as these, what is one thing that keeps you fighting for love over hate?
Martin Engler – Only those who burn themselves can light a fire. I sometimes find it difficult to stay positive, but like I said before, giving up is not an option!