Balancing almost fan-boy levels with interest with the need to at least try to ask questions which are phrased in a way that sounds original (believe me, very few questions are original for bands who have been in the game a long time) and balancing the excitement of speaking to an artist of renown with the more staid detachment of someone grown cynical after years of writing about music may be an easy skill for journalists to master, but for the humble website writer it can be amazingly difficult. Sometimes you are more or less forced to ask at least some questions which will undoubtedly have been rendered obsolete by the artist in question’s previous interviews and musings – this being the case you are either called on your tedious predictability (with varying degrees of irritation) or the question is brushed over entirely.
In this case the interviewee is none other than Fenriz, one half of the legendary Darkthrone, and a musician whose existence remained shrouded in mystery for much of the 90s as interview requests were largely shunned (for reasons explained in this detailed interview). Fenriz has in recent years, however, become far more accessible; partly to control the rampant rumours that tend to spread when you’re a revered and mysterious figure, partly as a result of the excellently entertaining and informative commentaries included on recent Peaceville reissues of Darkthrone records; with the result that interviews now take up a good deal of his time (as he wryly notes we are number seventy-something in the never-ending cycle of modern day album promotion) and whilst he answered our questions with humour and detail, he couldn’t resist pointing out we were asking him to state (or perhaps re-state would be a better word) the obvious – a charge to which we can only hold our hands up high and say mea culpa and try to do better next time!
Darkthrone surely need no introduction – a band whose influence has spread far and wide throughout the underground, Darkthrone is founded on passion and belief and few acts have remained so ferociously uncompromising throughout their career. From the early, frost-rimed works such as ‘under a funeral moon’ (a classic that belongs in any metal collection) through to the recent blazing effort ‘the underground resistance’, Darkthrone may have evolved their sound but only within the context of their own interests and beliefs about what music should be with the net result that any Darkthrone album, whilst it may sound different to its immediate predecessor, carries with it a distinctive feel that is entirely unique to Fenriz and Nocturno Culto. With the latter member of the band notoriously unwilling to communicate, it is Fenriz who does much of the talking for the band and it is Fenriz who frequently appears to name-drop some obscure band he has found in the depths of the underground, thus not only trailblazing a path for the power of metal but also helping to promote those whose work reaches the same high standards Darkthrone impose upon themselves. It is an approach that demonstrates that the underground community can be exactly that if populated by passionate individuals whose belief in the power of music itself eclipses any spurious notions of fame or stardom.
What follows is the full transcript of our interview with Fenriz, covering the latest album (the awe-inspiring ‘underground resistance’), the power of the internet in modern music and the artwork that proudly adorns Darkthrone releases and it is an interview that are proud indeed to have been able to conduct, even if we were mildly (oh, OK, very) nervous beforehand.
Side two of ‘the underground resistance’ feels like a love letter to the NWOBHM, particularly with the thirteen minute epic of ‘leave no cross unturned’ – how long did it take to develop the song and did you have any specific bands in mind when you recorded the awesome opening vocal?
Hehe, all this info should’ve been given to all the journos, as I write detailed about it IN the album itself and those quotes are also given journos (you see? We told you the first question was a mis-step – SonicAbuse ed.). Ted doesn’t make NWOBHM, never did. And if he does, I’ll tell ya. So that leaves us with ‘Leave No Cross Unturned’ which have Agent steel ‘84-85 and Savage Grace “Master of Disguise” album-like verse and refrain riff. Then the middle part: slow Celtic Frost a la ‘85 with double bass drums, then slower Celtic Frost a la ‘84. And that is repeated but the second time a regular heavy metal riff pops up. Then the return of the speed metal verse and refrain. Then a medley of the middle part. Then an old riff I made that I never forgot, when I made it I thought it sounded like ‘87 Pentagram and also when I played it again for my own demo version here – but after I re-wrote it in two keys and Ted didn’t add vintage guitar sound to it, I think it sounds more like ‘Enter Sandman’ hahahahahaha. Anyway, so there’s no NWOBHM on that track at all, I think only the middle part in ‘THE ONES YOU LEFT BEHIND’ is NWOBHM, but the Iron Maiden ‘84 “Losfer Words (Big ‘Orra)”-kind. It is impossible to say how long it took to write it, cuz we have to include that old riff that came back to me when I needed an ending on the song. And so we’d basically have to say years. But no, when I “got” the first two riffs, fell into my head, it took maybe just 2 weeks – a month until I did the slow riffs, and then swiftly used that old riff from a song I scrapped as ending.
You have a history of having detailed and often stunning artwork on your album covers – how much time and personal control do you take over the process of creating them?
Not an iota. We’ve had all sorts of covers and extremely little to say to the artists the few times we had ideas, which was 4 times I think. Apart from that we either stole images, got sent images we liked, someone found it for us (like this one) and we paid the artist to use it, or we made our own (photos as album cover). Many years I wasn’t even giving a rats ass about covers, the worst days of metal ‘97-2001 I certainly didn’t, and this led to me just ok’ing Photoshop covers which we had to rectify with the competition for people to draw real covers for the re-release of those albums from those times.
Is the idea of cover art something that you particularly embrace as a fan of vinyl?
That was the thing that hurt the most when the cd came, that the art disappeared. Yet I started to buy both cd’s AND vinyls from ‘88 and onwards, before that it was only tapes and vinyls of course. But to me a lot of albums have awful covers, I think most people think so, but you still want it on vinyl cuz vinyl is a state of mind. I have bought a lot of vinyls lately that I bought on cd in ‘88 and ‘89. Costs me helluvalot of money.
Throughout the nineties it seemed to that Darkthrone were shrouded in mystery and yet in recent years you’ve embraced a number of opportunities to talk about the band and its history, most notably on the album commentaries you’ve been doing for the reissues – who was behind that concept and do you enjoy recording those commentaries as much as it sounds like you do?
I had been using incredible amount of time in the underground in ‘87 and ‘88 and ‘89 and 1990, and then I turned 18 in November ‘89 and then I got the record deal and then it was time to finally party, I had no normal youth, no parties. Now it was time to not give a rats ass and become a monster. So I didn’t do many interviews, at least not from ‘92 till ‘97 and that was not planned. However through all the blackpackers that came to Elm Street to find us to talk to, we could hear worse and worse stories and rumors from people that since they had no interviews to go by just seemed to make up their own shit about me and others and also Darkthrone. So in ‘98 -99 Moonfog set up office in downtown Oslo (RIGHT by the place our bar KNIVEN is at now, by the way) and I could do interviews all the time to stop the rumors. I was just being me but people thought I lived in a cave or something. Which is funny cuz they came from all over the world to meet me in a ROCK BAR hahahaha, how idiotic is THAT? Of course I am there to party and to hang with my crew, the network I started building already in ‘91 at Elm Street. I am not saying I did NO interviews in ‘92-97 but I didn’t do so many. And now I just kept on like I did in the late ‘80s, only tenfold. And now it’s monstrous, the last years always around 90-100 interviews per album (this is number 78) cuz Ted won’t do any (almost).
Well, I try to enjoy talking about the albums when I am finally setting up my mic and so on. Would be no use being a bore. Satanists gotta be brilliant. And it was my idea to bring commentary into the cd world, just swiped it from the dvd world. Now, I had to think of something cuz we don’t have leftovers for re-releases. So I had to come up with something. And listening to those commentary discs will give you more info about Darkthrone and more a feeling of “me” than any other thing, I reckon.
It seems that by working with email interviews and commentaries rather than phone interviews you are striving to maintain control over the whole media process at a time when so many bands are obsessed with chasing celebrity status, sometimes even before they’ve released an album – is that aspect of control, alongside your steadfast refusal to bow to any form of mainstream pressures with Darkthrone – one of the reasons, do you think, for your longevity?
I bought a computer in 2005 FOR THE SOLE REASON of not having to be somewhere at a certain time for phone interviews and also because: what happened if I was at the office and the 9am journo didn’t call? Nothing!!! For 45 minutes you just had to sit there and wait for the 9:45 one. Ghastly. I talk A LOT too, and more and more every year as I get more and more experience. This is one of the good things of doing music, if you have a love for it you always get more info and experience –not like athletes who peak at 30 or 40 if they’re lucky
With the rise of the internet it seems that bands have more opportunity than ever to be creative without commercial expectation – yet in contrast, in order to gain listeners bands have to adopt the homogenous sound of the mainstream – do you foresee that situation changing and is that where the notion of ‘the underground resistance’ comes from – the conscious desire to be different? (sorry – that’s sort of several questions in one!)
GHOST didn’t have to adopt any mainstream sound, mainstream isn’t even an issue here. Not with my part of the metal world. Many of those we thought were edgey growing up, like Black Sabbath, are probably considered mainstream now, but fuck that, that is understandable evolution-wise but still wrong. If a band sound like early Black Sabbath they are still edge, even if Nuclear Blast started to sign those bands (i.e. Graveyard). It is a MILLION times better that they sign great ‘70s stuff like that than total clowns like Mystic Circle hahahaha
The underground resistance is a large volume of people that shaped the scene back to not forgetting about Cirith Ungol or Manilla Road, it shaped the metal real so that ‘70s bands and ‘80s metal could yet again struggle back to their rightful place/lands. And as a result of this, the metal realm is much MUCH bigger than the early ‘80s, and remember that also back then there were crap bands, it’s just now we got whole styles that are crappy, haha. But the metal and music scene in general was great already since the ‘60s revolution (of course I like a lot of older music than that but we all know it was a musical revolution since the mid ‘60s) and now it is better than ever, cuz I think with the net it was another revolution musically in the 00s. and vinyl is back with 90% sales increase in Sweden and 67% here, and total music sales are up as well for the first time since 2004 here. Hell yeah!!!
The eighties is so often dismissed as a decade, yet so much of what came out of the late seventies and the eighties informs modern rock and metal – does it frustrate you that so many people are revisionist to the point that they miss the tireless innovation of that decade?
All the great metal styles came from the ‘80s, it’s just a fact. But the decade was hectic and made room for the more gothic or monotone or sad/grievous styles and so the 90s came. I think the biggest problem with the ‘90s was the typical RHYTHMS and SOUND PRODUCTION and Photoshop album covers. In metal and rock ’n roll, I like all the decades from the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘00s and ‘10s, and the ‘90s had good bands too but very problematic for metal, it took a lot of work to make people understand where it all came from. And that work is being done in most the interviews I do.
One arguable advantage of the internet is that it makes the philosophy of tape-trading so much quicker and more effective – you’ve done so much to promote underground bands via your various sites and the lists that frequently appear in the back of your albums, yet that philosophy of sharing the word of great bands seems to be largely absent from the modern music scene – do you think that overall it’s easier or harder for kids today to discover the best underground bands than it was in the eighties?
KIDS didn’t discover demos in the ‘80s, only die hard maniacs like myself. Driven people. And there were no forums. Anyway, I am not writing about music a lot, I am living music all the time constantly, but I really wanna let music speak for itself so you can see I have promoted literally HUNDREDS, maybe soon a thousand, bands throughout my life but I normally don’t write much, I mainly drop the band and title or link or what not. And let people listen. I don’t read much about music myself either. Always just listening, only headphones are real, hahhhahaha!! Also, I often turn down writing about bands for books, like a book about Black Sabbath, I said I didn’t wanna do it because I am really into their music up to “Born Again” and it influenced me a lot but I am still not a FAN (as in fanatic) that like all the albums and follow them and know stuff about them and that’s the kind of person that SHOULD be writing a foreword in a book about Black Sabbath.
Is it difficult to manage the stress of day-to-day life, work etc, and the requirements of writing and recording material for Darkthrone?
Extremely difficult in the interview season, it’s beyond stressful and it puts a strain on the personal life because everything Is about YOU without even noticing that yourself. Doing all the emails feels both vital and empty, then there’s accounting and taxes to be done as well. And then there’s the day job too, anyway, it’s just about soldiering on, there’s another gem of a tune waiting to be discovered tomorrow or the next day!
The writing of material just comes when it comes, that bit ain’t stressful at all. It used to be all writing and rehearsing and maybe 25% office work back in ‘88 and ‘89, now it’s – and I shit you not, probably 98% that.
Having listened to all the albums recently in order to do the commentaries, did you feel a connection with the early albums or do you see them now as part of the process of evolution that has bought you to your current state as a band?
Nah, didn’t listen to all the albums, just the few I did commentaries to…oh well, it’s probably half of them soon, as we are still doing commentaries, but we don’t listen or I don’t listen to ‘em first, we just pop it in and let it rip, the only time I listened to an album first to get SOME idea of what to say was with TOTAL DEATH cuz I didn’t remember much of it, only that I always had some problems with my songwriting on that one, hehe. Some nice riffs but didn’t hit the bullseye putting them together perhaps. As told in the commentaries, haha.
Nah man, in almost every interview there is focus on the old albums, we made like 3 classics in the black metal genre and that will stick to me/us forever. I don’t think we had to go through all those albums to get to where we are now, but another man called Peter Stjärnvind said that maybe we all (those of us that has been through rowdy metal styles and now play older styles than ever before) had to pull through all the shit metal of the ‘90s and early ‘00s to SEE what really matters. Hard rock. Hehe.
Don’t forget to listen to HOUR OF 13!!
Here’s a list of groovy stuff I got a hang up on this week:
The Maggots – Lets get, lets get Tammy Wynette, USA ‘80
THE SPITS – Dropout, USA 2000
LOS REACTORS – Dead in the Suburbs, USA 1980
THE HASKELS – Taking the City by Storm, USA 1980
THE MARKED MEN – We Won’t Talk About It, USA 2003
THE DIRTBOMBS – They Hate us in Scandinavia, USA 1999
COCKNEY REJECTS – War on the Terraces, UK 1980
THE MAIDS – Back to Bataan, USA ‘79
The Nights of the New Crusade – Secret Sign, USA 2004