Discussing Abandon All Hope by Gretchen Menn


As seen in
Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 22 – Winter 2022

Gretchen Menn released her second solo album, Abandon All Hope, in December 2016, and she has a follow-up in the works. This concept album is based on Dante’s Inferno. The music’s original libretto text is from Michael Molenda and the haunting images are from Max Crace.

Abandon All Hope is like a movie score or an opera. It is very dynamic and blew me away. It painted a picture in my head and filled my heart. 

Ah, thank you so much! That means the world to me. Thank you for your open ears and open mind!

Tell me about the concept for the album, which is based on Dante’s Inferno. The audio experience is the perfect vehicle for interpretation and encouraging a personal, emotive experience…

The concept was brought to me by Michael Molenda, who was Editor-In-Chief of Guitar Player Magazine at the time. Though he and my dad had never crossed paths, Michael and I met through Jude Gold, a dear friend who also works at Guitar Player and is an absolutely brilliant musician.

Michael heard my first album, Hale Souls, and got a sense that I had a deep compositional interest. He pitched the idea of a concept album based on the Inferno, and I was immediately on board. I come from a family replete with writers — not just my dad, but grandparents on both sides — so my love of literature was practically inherited and certainly fostered. Tackling such an iconic and important piece of epic poetry was a challenge but a very exciting one. I learned so much in the process.

The writing and artwork are stunning. How long did you work on this project?

It was a year or so of studying, reading, researching, and working to acquire some of the compositional chops I felt the project required. Then another year or so of composition, with the guidance of a wonderful teacher, Elizabeth Erickson. She plays piano, violin, viola, and cello, so she was a very helpful resource as I worked to create parts that were both playable and idiomatically correct for the instruments. Production took some time, too, as the parts were complex, and it was a balancing act of making enough money in my other gigs to fund the project while also having enough time to relegate to it. Recordings were split between Italy and the U.S. The string quartet and piano were recorded in Italy, and the guitar, bass, and drums were in the U.S.

The artwork is all by Max Crace, and the storyline is Michael Molenda’s. Part of the reason I don’t have the album on Spotify is that the album really is intended to be experienced as all three pieces. The download through Bandcamp on my website includes a PDF of the album artwork for those who don’t prefer a physical copy.

How did tempo, pace and time signatures play into creating the different songs?

I had a document where I sketched out the entire album, track by track, before writing a single note of music. Each section included basic tempo, instrumentation, key, meter, dynamics, and various adjectives to describe how each piece should sound, which instrument(s) would be featured, or solo, and which aspect of Dante’s Canto would be the emotional focus. I wanted the album to feel like a journey that progresses with variety while maintaining an organic unity. So, all of the aspects you mentioned were selected carefully, with regard not just to the individual track but also to how each track fits into the album as a whole.

Exploring some standout Songs 

“Tombs” has a great bass intro, violin and is very moving.

“Tombs” is one of the more difficult on guitar. The combination of sweeps and tapping, a relentless, alternate-picked section, and a development section with fragments that constantly jump around make it a challenge both technically as well as for memorization.

“Beast” is very metal.

That one had to be as ominous and terrifying as possible. It’s daunting to attempt to conjure Lucifer sonically, so I spent some time analyzing reference pieces that elicited the darkness I was hoping to convey.

“Hound of Hades”… love it. Tell us a bit about the evolution of that song, and are there any effects on it?

Thank you! That one is the circle of the gluttonous, guarded by Cerberus, a three-headed dog-beast that devours all in sight — the mud, the filth. The piece needed to sound nasty, frenetic, overblown. I went with a very “guitaristic” riff in E minor and intertwined lines to evoke chaos, aggression, even a bit of nausea. The effects on that are just a bit of reverb and delay. The gain is from the amp, and I use a slide in various parts.