The Swiss pioneers of Paganmetal – an interview with Münggu Drachentöter (Excelsis)

We at redpipes have been following your musical activities for many years now and of course we are somehow proud of the success that our redpipe shared with you.

Thank you, I can say I am proud to call such a brilliant instrument mine!

Excelsis are on the scene since 1996 and as far as I know has produced six albums. It seems to be adequate to call the band a pioneer of Paganmetal – at least in Switzerland. Right?

It is true we published six regular albums and two acoustic albums. Next year we will celebrate our 20 th anniversary as a band because actually we exist since 1995 when we released our first demo-tape which was something quite normal at these days. We often got branded as Paganmetal pioneers and it makes us a little bit proud. When we first used bagpipes, didgeridoos or recorders on our debut album some metalheads were confused by that mixture of sounds. But many liked it a lot. Today there is big scene of that kind of metal music – not least due to the huge succes of Eluveitie. This development helped us a lot and finally in 2013 we even reached a position in the Swiss charts. Originally we always were determined to quit with music if this ever would happen because we suspected that something must be wrong about our music. But, well … the times are changing.

How did you get into music (and to playing the bagpipe) personally?

All this ‘mess’ refers to my cousin which gave me an Iron Maiden album in 1983
( I suppose that it was ‘Piece of Mind’) and I was lost. Until today I am a big fan of Iron Maiden. Then in 1989 I discovered the band Blind Guardian and for many years they were my reference in music. That may explain why the early Excelsis albums were power-metal oriented. I loved the concept of combining fantasy tales with melodic speed-metal (I’m still a Tolkien fan).

During a trip through Europe by train together with a friend of mine we landed in beautiful rough Scotland and stayed there for a while. I was interested in Scottish legends and of course in the bagpipe tradition. For some reason I didn’t purchase a bagpipe then.
I was lucky to meet a guy some years later when I worked for a company who played the bagpipe and it was then when the virus got me.

What were the most important influences when you started to play music?

Well, as I said – mainly Iron Maiden, Blind Guardian and Co. Later there were other bands like Skyclad with their album ‘The Wayward Sons of Mother Earth’. For me they are the real inventors of folk-metal and the mixture of traditionell and folkloristic elements with metal inspired me a lot. Also – since I saw the movie ‘Rain Man’ – I am a fan of Hans Zimmer and his film-music

Today you look at international success with your helvetic folk-metal and your band Excelsis. You share the stage with renowned acts like Eluveitie, Koorpiklani, Finntroll, Sepultura, In Extremo. How did the folk-metal scene change sinde the early days of Excelsis?

It changed a lot! Take only the fact that we reached a charts-position with our music – we couldn’t have imagined this some years before. It’s like a kind of renaissance is taking place right now. I think people are disillusioned by todays ‘intense’ lifes and try to escape a little from this world.

Medieval markets and events attract a growing number of people and we also feel this interest in the folk-metal scene. What has been a niche some years ago is now (getting) an important and rather big genre.

On all of your albums except the first one you refer to Swiss hero legends in your lyrics. How did this happen?

On the first album we worked with a lot of different tales from Scottish or Celtic tradition because all band members were into Tolkin or other fantasy stuff. During the work on our second album we decided to focus on a Swiss legend about „Kurt of Koppigen“ written by Jeremias Gotthelf. We thought it might be easier for us to identify with a story that had something to do with our own tradition. Thus we were able to visit some of the locations from the tale and get inspired by the mood of these places.

We got fascinated by these local tales and legends and decided to cling to this topic. When we made the first place at the Iron Saviour- Rock Hard contest with our sond ‘The Dragonslayer’ a magazine called us the ‘Emmentaler Dragonslayers’. We loved this and kept it as our slogan. The next album which will be released in 2015 will be dedicated to our neighbourhood the ‘Emmental’.

Excelsis isn’t your only musical project. Under the name ‘SchtiereGring’ you concentrate yourself on medieval music which fascinates you for a long time now. On the album ‘Liedli us der Gägend’ you are taking the listener on a trip through the surroundings in which you live. How important is ‘home’ for you?

It’s very important to me. I’ve been travelling quite a lot but I often think that people are so busy to travel around the world to see and experience as much as possible they forget about the local area they come from and all the exciting knowledge and stories it provides.

With the ‘SchtiereGring’-project I want to pass some of this richness on to the listener. It’s nice to get feedbacks via mail or other media from people who really discovered places like the Bachtelenbrunnen, which is a small fauntain-lake hidden in a wood. Sometimes they want to tell me their whole ‘adventure’ or maybe only say that the way made it worth.

How did you get to redpipes and what fascinates you with this instrument?

I own a Great Highland Bagpipe, a Kitchen Pipe and a Swiss bagpipe – all very good instruments. But I always had trouble with tuning or the limitation of keys that are typical for these instruments. Also the change of temperature which usually happens when you play big concerts made problems. With the redpipe this all belongs to the past as it is a very stable instrument.

Most convincing for me is the flexibilty of the redpipe when it comes to changing the key or the sound and all the possible adjustments you can make. No long tuning ceremonies before the show! I also like the the handmade quality. By the way, Rolf and Bigy, how’s about including the sound of the Uillean Pipe into the redpipe? That might be a reason for me to get me another one – number three.

You play the redpipe metal for about four years now. How did this change/ influence your music?

Concerning the live aspect many things have changed! As I said: Tuning and reliability is always perfect. And it’s great that we are no longer bound by the key of the pipe but free to change it as we please.

Not to forget: my wife. I’m sure she prefers me practicing the bagpipe using my redpipe with headphones than doing this with my GHB!

Münggu – Emmentaler Drachentöter (Swiss FolkMetal since 1996) (die etwas andere Folk – Musik) (Bagpipes, Beats & Cajon)

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