Årabrot And Necromantic Norway: An In Extremis Special
, February 23rd, 2011 06:05
The mighty Årabrot will be playing our Ja Ja Ja showcase at The Lexington on February 24. Adam Kennedy met with frontman Kjetil Nernes and Haust's Vebjørn Guttormsgaard Møllberg to ask all about necromantic rock in Norway
Three of the finest records released anywhere on God's green-and-off-grey Earth in the past 12 months emerged on a label that few outside Norway had paid much attention to before now. In fairness, it has only been active since 2008. But Fysisk Format, straight outta Oslo, unleashed a trio of stone cold killers ready to replenish faith in inventive, impassioned and, at time, flat-out bogglingly bonkers stereo slayers.
First, chronologically speaking, came Revenge by Årabrot, a mesmerising slab marrying black metal's vicious intent to the unholy farm animal-defiling clunk of Touch And Go Records circa 1990. Next, as the days shortened, sonic kindred spirits Haust added skateboarding and literature-informed opus Powers Of Horror. A week later, in the first week of December, No Mass For Light followed, the debut album from Okkultokrati, overarching themes of UFO encounters accompanying blackened spiritual crust-punk.
Collectively, this triumvirate of wildly ambitious, conceptually-grounded long-players and their architects lead the Norwegian necromantic rock scene: a knee-jerk against perceptions that much latter-day heavy music from the region – notably black metal – has become an altogether more stage-managed commodity than the genuinely dangerous artform of old. Remember when bands like Emperor came replete with whispered back stories of murder, church burnings and surly satanic Scandinavian scariness? So why necromantic rock? And why should you care? We asked Kjetil Nernes and Vebjørn Guttormsgaard Møllberg, respective frontmen with Årabrot and Haust, to explain all - without killing us and fiddling with our corpse...
So how did the whole necromantic scene, and Haust and Okkultokrati's collective, the Black Hole Crew, coalesce?
Vebjørn Guttormsgaard Møllberg: The necromantic thing was inspired by this horror film, Nekromantik [by German moviemaker Jörg Buttgereit], about necrophilia. The black metal scene has been such a big crowd-pleasing scene in Norway, it's almost becoming like pop music. I think it's also why we're called the Black Hole Crew. We're trapped in this black hole, all this over-population and global warming. Norway today is very dead. Mythological Norway is so worn out, this horror of Norway, this dark country with Vikings and stuff. We don't want to be like Vikings or be so proud of being Norwegian, like the earlier bands have been. We are more like the necrophiliacs going through the tracks of these black metal people that have already done enough harm for society.
What were the precursors of the scene?
VGM: Haust and also Okkultokrati – I can speak for them because we are very close friends – are more connected to the punk scene. We're into this whole 'no future' thing from the punk scene in the 1970s and 1980s. Musically, we're a mix of American and British hardcore punk and Norwegian black metal. But image and message-wise, we want to be something else. I really like the attitude of, for example, Steve Albini and Big Black. It takes something from punk, something from nihilism and more artsy stuff, everything is allowed. We go more into this ugliness or gloominess that the black metal has and we try to conceptualise it. Powers Of Horror is from this essay by Julia Kristeva about abjection.
Kjetil Nernes: When Årabrot started out back in the early 2000s, no other band was even close at doing the stuff we were doing - maybe with the exception of Noxagt. It was a completely solitary travel. Even when we started touring Europe a couple of years later, there was not much happening on the noise-rock front. In many ways Årabrot is spearheading this campaign, but I do not yet see us as the forefathers of a movement or such.
VGM: Årabrot are an inspiration because they did something totally different: they mixed noise-rock and black metal very early and they were also connected to the art scene. They're a very important band to us. They've been playing for many years before we did Haust.
'Ugly Fucking Oslo’, as Haust refer to your nation's capital, is the main base for the necromantic scene, but you don't all hail from there originally, right?
VGM: Okkultokrati and Haust started off in Notodden, this very small city two hours from Oslo. It has this very special trash culture. I don't know what it's called in English, but all these cars just cruising up and down the streets. It's a little like – not this extreme – that film Gummo. All the guys going with 14-year-old girls in cars. So it's a place that everyone moves from when they are very young, unless they become cruiser guys. Emperor are also from there. We looked up to them because they did something else.
Do you feel like a marginalized group and/or scene in terms of Norway's culture and music?
VGM: Yeah. It's very nice that there's lots of money, state-funded culture, in Norway, but also in a way I think this goes into a black hole. They're always looking for something to chase that already has to be sellable. For example, now black metal is safe. It wasn't 15 years ago, or 10 years ago, but now it's definitely safe, and if you're a stable black metal band you can get a lot of money from the state. I think it's more interesting to see how you can not get money from the state!
Elements of the second generation of black metal, ie the first wave of Norwegian black metal, flirted with extreme nationalism. Is that something you're uncomfortable with?
KN: Yeah, I'd say most of the so-called necromantic bands are totally oblivious to nationalism.
VGM: It's something we don't want to be part of. We heard in the news these Norwegian soldiers in Afghanistan saying they were Vikings and called their mission To Valhalla, with their tanks and Viking hats. We're against this sort of image that is connected to rock music from Norway. It's such a scary thing about Norway, connected to neo-Nazis and fascism.
At the screaming extremes of Årabrot, Haust and Okkultokrati it's often hard to tell if you're singing in English or Norwegian...
VGM: Actually, with Haust, it's only English. Everyone is speaking English and I think it's an okay thing. Then we can't get accused for doing this Norwegian nationalism stuff. And it's not important for us that we are from Norway, it's more important that we try to oppose something that we think is dead and boring. It's more about this than about the fact that we're from Norway.
KN: I was a grade A English student and had all my musical influences and most of my influences in literature written in English. This, and the fact that I wanted my band to go abroad, made it an easy choice. For others, I don't see why more people don't write in Norwegian. The amount of terrible English lyrics in Norwegian music is humongous.
Your countrymen Kvelertak, who have been getting plenty of positive press from the metal mags, sing entirely in Norwegian and have cited bands such as Haust as inspirational...
VGM: It's a good thing because they're so good musically and totally new from this worn-out black metal scene, they do something new in that direction. But I don't like this sing-a-long Viking style, they're singing about Viking stuff. I feel a little alienated because it's such a cliché.
Does the necromantic scene feel like it could be on the verge of something bigger beyond Norway?
KN: Good question. I'm not sure about the States, but I do think Europe is more than ready for the necromantics. Noise-rock bands with the integrity to be exposed are more or less nonexistent on the continent, and the genre would thrive on a little fresh air.
The Quietus and The Stool Pigeon's Ja Ja Ja showcase at The Lexington takes place on February 24 (this Thursday) with Kellermensch, Årabrot and Deathcrush. For more information, click here, and for tickets click here.