UltraMantis Black: “The Music Will Always be Aggressive and Urgent.”
UltraMantis Black, still a key figure in Philadelphia’s Chikara wrestling scene more than a year after his retirement, has spent much of 2016 possessed by a demon. He’s sat ringside, cackling, as his hexed brothers bring him fresh soldiers for the accursed beyond.
His commitment to character means that UltraMantis hasn’t broken all year – the once friendly legend, usually happy to sign a picture for you during intermission, has only appeared in Chikara as a knight in satan’s service.
Tonight, he’ll temporarily shrug off that storyline and create hardcore thunder at Kung Fu Necktie with his band, also called UltraMantis Black, because sometimes, things are more important than a wrestling persona. Sometimes you have to fight the Earth War.
Whether wrestling or fronting a punk band, UltraMantis is a diehard vegan and animal rights activist. His recent EP They Make Plans to Poison Us, comes in a cardboard sleeve, wrapped in a PETA magazine. And that EP is four tracks of music that can and is accurately tagged both “ecodefense” and “powerviolence” (a strain of grindcore that focuses on being fast and explosive while working through complicated time signatures).
In advance of tonight‘s performance, Alex Rudolph interviewed UltraMantis to ask about the differences in performing on a concert stage and in the ring, his influences and where a vegan space bug can find a good cup of green tea.
As a wrestler, you’ve always talked about veganism and protecting the Earth, and there aren’t many wrestlers who do that. Punk, hardcore especially, is all about expressing those types of sentiments. Can you speak to the differences between talking politics in Chikara and talking politics in a hardcore band?
I think that in wrestling, not as many fans have been exposed to those kinds of issues before. In hardcore, especially in the era I came up in, it was almost a given that a band would have some sort of message. But you don’t go to a wrestling show and expect to find animal rights literature at the merch table.
I think it can be very eye opening to someone who has never considered these type of issues before. In hardcore, you are speaking to audiences that are generally already familiar with these issues. The casual wrestling fan may not be and it can be very eye opening to them. If someone grabs a pamphlet and it causes them to reconsider their eating habits and it prompts them to start to make more compassionate choices I consider that a small victory.
Why do underground wrestlers have better music taste than other athletes? As a big baseball fan, I’ve been conditioned to wince whenever a new player walks out because I know I’m seconds away from hearing butt rock. I don’t think anybody in 2016 is listening to Shaq or John Cena rap albums with a straight face.
Independent wrestlers tend to fall outside the norm. To succeed in this business, you not only have to be an athlete but you also have to be creative. A lot of that creativity comes from having more diverse tastes in things such as music, art, etc.
Your mask/identity is clearly based on Kamen Rider but did The Locust’s embrace of similar imagery influence your initial decision at all?
Would UltraMantis Black, the band or the person, make any kind of music outside of powerviolence? I know your music taste is pretty eclectic but is powerviolence a natural extension of UltraMantis Black? It’s maybe an obvious question and I wouldn’t expect you to pick up a guitar and sound like Jonathan Richman but I’m curious.
The type of music we play best suits the message we are trying to put forth. Our sound may evolve into something different but the music will always be aggressive and urgent. It fits what we are trying to say.
Is it difficult assembling a band this muscular? Melt-Banana are sort of the U2 of your genre, whereas most bands that play fast, heavy music in weird time signatures regularly cycle through members. There’s a whole Wikipedia page devoted to the Dillinger Escape Plan‘s past players, for example.
The band I put together is made up of individuals that I have known for many years and can trust. We all share similar beliefs and stand behind what we are saying. The band is a solid unit and the lineup that we have now will most likely stay the way it is for the foreseeable future.
What are three punk albums, 7″s, performances, whatever that people would be surprised to know influence the way you approach your music?
A big influence for me, especially lyrically, are a lot of the politically charged bands of the mid 90s. Bands like Chokehold, Born Against and the Ebullition records bands. Of course, the the animal rights message of many of the vegan bands of that time also influenced me greatly.
Musically, the band draws some of its sound from the more dissonant sounding bands like Groundwork, Rorschach and Resurrection.
Your wrestling persona is pretty jovial, while your music is dead serious. Is there any room for camp in hardcore?
Only Crucial Youth.
What’s the best way to contribute to winning the Earth War?
Through personal change. Going vegan is one of the most important things and individual can do to help save this planet. Animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of water consumption, deforestation and pollution. It is responsible for more greenhouse gasses than the transportation industry. It is contributing to pretty much every environmental ill that is currently destroying out planet. Not to mention the incredible cruelty and torture and suffering the animals must face.
What’s the best green tea you’ve ever had?
Thanks for the interview. Support your local scene. Go vegan.