Haunting The Chapel: Darkthrone

Varg Vikernes — who I spoke with a couple of weeks ago — gets the bulk of the Norwegian-related black metal press, but for my kroner, Gylve Fenris Nagell, Darkthrone vocalist/lyricist/drummer/etc Fenriz, is the true heart and soul of that area’s “scene” and the international underground metal scene in general. Since he and cohort Ted Skjellum, guitarist/bassist/vocalist Nocturno Culto, formed Darkthrone as a death metal band in 1987, went on to release landmark black metal collections — 1992′s A Blaze In The Northern Sky (which still had some black metal-ish details and which I’ve riffed on previously), 1993′s Under A Funeral Moon, and 1994′s Transilvanian Hunger (featuring lyrics from Vikernes, as did 1995′s Panzerfaust) — and later morphed into a crustier thrash entity, they’ve continually shifted and refined and then fucked up their sound in ways that feel honest and natural. Fenriz is an endless listener and seeker of sounds who promotes unknown and soon-to-be-known underground metal bands via his Band Of The Week MySpace blog, CD compilations, and various shout-outs in interviews. (For instance, you’d do well to check out all the bands he mentions during our discussion, including West Coasters Christian Mistress, Canada’s Bastardator, NYC locals Atakke, and majestic Finnish doom project Hooded Menace). He and Nocturno Culto also edited the forthcoming April 2010 issue of Terrorizer. As a friend mentioned to me after watching Until The Light Takes Us, unlike say Immortal, Fenriz doesn’t get weighed down with the scene’s cartoonishness — instead, he’s a lifer who supports metal in a passionately human way (which means he also has a sense of humor). I asked him questions about Norway, Darkthrone’s history, contemporary black metal, and Darkthrone’s great new album Circle The Wagons, among other things.

STEREOGUM: You’ve experimented with different approaches throughout your career …with The Cult Is Alive you shifted to a more blackened crusty punk sound. What inspired that direction?

FENRIZ: “Experimented” sounds like we are mad scientists in a lab … but we’re just making what we need to do, each on our own since summer ’91 when I decided we’d start making songs on our own. We’re driven by coincidence — it is very free form. With The Cult Is Alive … well what lead up to that was that Ted said let’s get a portable studio of our own and then I knew it was going to sound rougher than ever. Knowing that really knocked out some walls in my songwriting, but it was Ted that wrote the single, the rather punky “Too Old, Too Cold,” a totally untypical song from Ted’s and also considering he probably doesn’t own “Feel The Darkness” with Poison Idea. And our only “music video” followed that song, the rest of the album is more or less thrash without being played like thrash, black without being played like usual black, unusual punk, unusual death, strange combos of Motorhead and Celtic Frost (that would be me) and last but not least my fave song “Forebyggende Krig,” which once and for all cements my eternal love for Dream Death and for those about to rock-song structure…

STEREOGUM: That sound’s explored and expanded upon with Circle The Wagon. You get the punk, but it’s also very metal. I’m thinking of the chorus on “Those Treasures Will Never Befall You,” a bunch of the guitar solos, etc. Clearly you guys have always been metal, but there are moments here that make me think of metal in terms of Slough Feg, or someone … Pure power metal or speed metal, almost. You’ve described it as “heavy metal/speed metal-punk.” In your own words, how has the sound shifted from F.O.A.D. and Dark Thrones And Black Flags to Circle?

FENRIZ: Our style and Slough Feg has very little in common, mostly because they cram alot of notes into their riffs and I do not, also rhythms are very different but it’s great honour to be mentioned with them as they fought the HEAVY METAL fight in the darkest year of heavy metal: 1998. So drink some beer in the kitchen out of a horn for them!

From The Cult Is Alive came The Trilogy [of] Fuck Off And Die, Dark Thrones And Black Flags, Circle The Wagon, each of them more heavy metal than the other, which is basically what we are doing as a band — moving very slowly backwards. When we started we were inspired by 1986-1987 and since then we used 23 years to move mainly to 1979-1985 where we are now, haha!!

The main change for this album is not one black metal riff and only one bass drum on eight of the songs. It was what I needed to do, but it’s hard — I always played with double kick since 1987, so now there’s even more nerve — as in nervousness — in my drumming. Oh, we also had the guitar amp in another room than the drum set, so they don’t spill into one another.

STEREOGUM: As far as Circle The Wagons … Who are the “overground metal traitors” “invading our metal domain”? You’re also waging a war against instant gratification. What are your thoughts on the Internet?

FENRIZ: The Internet doesn’t afflict this at all … Bad choices on sound production has been made through time — but mostly in the ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s. Those who still don’t respect that raw music like rock ’n’ roll and heavy metal must have organic or raw sound are the traitors. And all those sissies who accepted that Cradle Of Filth could actually be called black metal … that is a lot of people turning their backs on me and black metal. I didn’t turn my back on black metal, it turned it’s back on me — the FALSE black metal created by press and misunderstanding kids. 1981-1993 was best, then there was not one black metal recording with [a] polished, soulless sound.

STEREOGUM: How did you hook up with Dennis Dread? The covers he’s done for you are great. On this one (scroll!), did you suggest Max Necro’s Teitanblood patch? Why not a Bastardator nod?

FENRIZ: Ted and me had settled for Morne. Dennis drew in Teitanblood, we both like them as well. Bastardator I have supported alot as well — this “why not” question could be asked about thousands (literally) of bands we like … Ted had contact with Dennis cuz of the covers Dennis drew for Abscess, a band Ted releases on his Tyrant Syndicate label (R.I.P.)

STEREOGUM: Speaking of old-school and instant gratification and etc … What inspired the song “I Am The Graves Of The 80′s”?

FENRIZ: That choir takes a whole lot of getting used to, it’s well crooked like a hockey game roar. So it ain’t no instant gratification. That line means what it means, “This song and my being is the embodiment of the ’80s metal.” Simple as that. I never really talk about my lyrics much … I think lyrics should just be lyrics

STEREOGUM: Was “Black Mountain Totem” inspired by those Norwegian nature hikes you’ve been going on?

FENRIZ: It’s a song about all the trips or some of them, a landscape in my mind, friendship of Ted and me through all these years, about life itself, about this country … It’s sentimental as hell, HAHAHA

STEREOGUM: “I Am The Working Class” is an excellent anthem. Can you give me some background? Like much of the album, it feels like a call to arms.

FENRIZ: I went a bit “youth crew” on the refrain there with my vocals, didn’t I? Must’ve been the endless hours at the gym listening to ’80s NYHC. But as usual, I get a very personal spin on things — I usually astound many with telling them what this and that was inspired by. I was thinking of doing commentaries when our seven Moonfog albums get re-released on Peaceville … now that could be interesting for y’all…

STEREOGUM: Are you happy with Until The Light Takes Us?

FENRIZ: So far I chose not to see it. I am usually not enjoying watching myself on film or television.

STEREOGUM: What are your thoughts on Belus? Varg’s return in general?

FENRIZ: Many of my friends with supreme music tastes like it. All journos so far since march 2010 asked me this question, but I am a part of the underground, I don’t get the same promos that y’all do. I am in direct contact with the bands — ask me about Christian Mistress or Russian metal punk. Anyway, I am looking forward to listening to Belus. It’s just that no one asked about Varg and me in ’92. Now they all want a piece. But it was personal contact back then and so it is now.

STEREOGUM: There has been a Second Wave Norwegian black metal renaissance. Mayhem’s huge. Immortal’s gotten in on it. Ihsahn has a new album … though he’s clearly gone in a different direction. Etc. What are your thoughts on the contemporary Norwegian black metal/extreme metal scene?

FENRIZ: I never used the extreme genre, it wasn’t a word back in late ’80s. Now we play MODERATE METAL WITH SOME UGLY VOCALS … I never really felt I played very extreme metal, certainly not in ’88 or my songs since 1998!!! Again, I am not a part of a scene or the promos that all journalists get … I have always made my own crew or scene always … so I know a little of what happens in many countries. Norway is certainly not one of the most interesting ones, as there are extremely few people playing old old heavy metal with organic sound here. But look here at the list of Band Of The Week bands and see for yourselves what Norwegian bands are there:

IN SOLITUDE (Sweden), 
DEVASTATOR (Florida, USA), 
FAUSTCOVEN (Norway)
, DEATHRONER (Canada)
, DEATH BEAST (USA), 
SPEED TRAP (Finland), 
BLADE OF THE RIPPER (USA), 
BLIZZARD (Germany), 
CORRUPT (Sweden), 
CAST IRON (Finland)
, THE COSMIC WHEELS (USA), 
CHILDREN OF TECHNOLOGY (Italia), 
BASTARD PRIEST (Sweden), 
SALUTE (UK), 
REVENGE (Greece), 
SONIC RITUAL (Sweden), 
PUKE (Sweden)
, VOMITOR (Australia), 
SADISTIC INTENT (USA), 
KÖRGULL THE EXTERMINATOR (Spain)
, HANGÖVER (Poland), 
MIDNIGHT (USA), 
DISHAMMER (Spain), 
PENTAGRAM (Chile), 
EVIL ARMY (USA), 
NOIA (Firenze, Italy)
, SELFISH (Finland), 
ZEMIAL (Greece/Ger), 
HELL DARKNESS (Isr), 
WASTELANDER (Michigan, USA), 
ATOMIC ROAR (Brazil), 
G.A.T.E.S. (Japan), 
SANCTUM/DETONIZE (Seattle, USA), 
EM RUINAS (Brazil), 
VULCANO (Brazil), 
AFTER THE BOMBS (Canada), 
GRAVE DESECRATOR (Brazil), 
HARBINGER (MICHIGAN, USA), 
ANGUISH (USA), 
IRON KOBRA (Germany), 
HOODED MENACE (Finland), 
POWER FROM HELL (Brazil), 
BLACKHOLICUS (Texas, USA)
, ORDER OF THE VULTURE (Oregon, USA), 
TRENCH HELL (Australia), 
HIGH SPIRITS (USA)
, MURDERESS (USA), 
NECROVOMIT (Italy), 
APOKALYPTIC RAIDS (Brazil), 
HELLISH CROSSFIRE (Germany), 
ZÖLDÏER NOÏZ (France), 
EIDOMANTUM (Sweden/Latvia), 
ÖRK BASTARDS (Russia)
, OBLITERATION (Norway), 
INSTINCT OF SURVIVAL (Germany)
, HELLSHOCK (USA), 
SUMMON THE CROWS (Norway)
, MÄNIAC (Canada), 
BUNKER 66 (Italy), 
POKOLGÉP (Hungary)
, BASTARDATOR (Canada)
, REPUGNANT (Sweden)
, ATAKKE (USA), 
MIASMAL (Sweden), 
NITAD (Sweden), 
METALIAN (Canada)
, RAMESSES (U.K.), 
AGE OF TAURUS (U.K.)
, VIRUS (Norway), 
VOOR (Canada ’85)

I would add bands like Audiopain and Inferno and Aura Noir and Lamented Souls, etc. No one in my crew or worldwide “scene” listens to new Immortal and at least not Ishahn!!! HAHA … it’s soooo far removed from our region of the metal world. Try Christian Mistress or Sonic Ritual.

Good black metal bands are not really in Norway for me … many are ’90s copy bands. Orcustus is good, Rust is good if you like Aura Noir/DT … Faustcoven holds the most black metal feeling for me. The feeling is the most important — BM is not the ’90s sport it turned out to be — “Who can copy 93-96 style the best” — it just makes me puke.

STEREOGUM: Between the Band Of The Week blog, some clips from Norwegian television shows, and curatorial-type moments (compilation CDs, etc), you clearly listen to a lot of music … What are your thoughts on American black metal? Any favorites? I imagine you might enjoy Bone Awl.

FENRIZ: I basically had all the BM I needed in 1991. Then VON and BURZUM and that was it for me. Oh, and Immortal had Pure Holocaust, but it was a different style — awesome but not something to influence me other than on an internal level. I guess many tried in the ’90s … I enjoyed Black Witchery a bit. Best BM band since the ’80s is Hellrealm from Chicago (man from Scepter), a lot like VON if you must.

STEREOGUM: How did you get involved with the Live Evil Festival? Was it a spin-off from Band Of The Week?

FENRIZ: Spin off, yeah, I am not involved … I am just continuing my uncorrupt band of the week blog and the festival can choose any band from there so it can play. I like it when an idea just takes off like that, but I can still just keep doing what I originally did: Smoke out more good bands.

STEREOGUM: I already know your answer to these questions, but … any plans to do shows of this sort in the U.S.? Will Darkthrone play live … ever???

FENRIZ: We’ll go on a 23-month tour of Idaho. Idaho? no, YOU da ho!!!!  HAHAHAAHA

STEREOGUM: Musically, where do you see Darkthrone going next?

FENRIZ: With the pace we hold now, backwards in time — well be sounding like 1975 in the year of 2028-30.

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UPDATE: I was curious why Fenriz loves the female-fronted Olympia crew Christian Mistress so much — he mentioned them twice in our brief exchange — so I shot along a followup…

STEREOGUM: What is it you like about Christian Mistress?

FENRIZ: What’s not to like? They play heavy metal the old way, the exact way we enjoy it ourselves. Also, they have balls enough to turn the heaviest fuzz off when they play leads, other bands do it the opposite way. “CHRISTIAN MISTRESS HAVE BALLS!! HAHA!!!” Also, the vocalist is as cool as the Acid vocalist, but Christian Mistress has better riffs…

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Circle The Wagons is out 4/5 via Peaceville. Take a listen to “Eyes Burst At Dawn.”

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If you’re in the NYC area in April, or willing to travel, I’ve teamed up with the Blackened Music Series (who’re hosting Immortal next week) to bring Neige’s post-black metal project Alcest to NYC for the French crew’s first ever area appearance. Alcest will be joined by Philly post-punk black metallers/recent Candlelight signees woe and ambient new wave/industrial/shoegaze/black metal-inspired Connecticut cult (I couldn’t resist) Have A Nice Life. You’ll find most of the info you need on the below flyer, which Seldon Hunt made for us. (You’ll find more here.)

To get you in the mood: A couple Alcest tracks, both from the new album, Écailles De Lune (out 4/20 via Prophecy)

Finally, just before I was about to file this, I got word that Watain’s releasing their fourth album, Lawless Darkness, on 6/7. (Their last one Sworn To The Dark was No. 1 on my Best Of 2007 list.) Says frontman E. of the new collection:

The title symbolizes the unbound chaotic potential of that which is void of light .. The light that defines, the light that shapes and restricts. The light by which the forces of law and order uphold their reign. In the absence of that light lies the wellspring of WATAIN:  in Lawless Darkness.

With this album and in all of our efforts with WATAIN we aim to capture the hungry madness and glimmering purity of darkness beyond illusion, the void that holds all yet where naught is manifest, the primordial tomb into which all the vanity of man and his creation shall collapse: indeed, The Lawless Darkness!

Lawless Darkness shall be seen as a monument erected in honour of that collapse and a dedication to all those brave souls, who have willingly dared to venture the winding paths towards it.

Shed not thy light on me
Get thee hence, thoughts defined
Blind me not with your bright structures
For I am of the night

Let not thy rays caress me
Judged by them I will not be
For they are the light that governs man
And I am the enemy

They’ll be back in the US for Maryland Deathfest. (And we’re told that on June 7th “black metal shall be reborn,” so stay up to date with that at MySpace.)

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