Underground Attitude: Fenriz Of Darkthrone Interviewed
, March 19th, 2013 05:34
Toby Cook speaks Fenriz about keeping it real after all these years
The worst interview you’ll ever do is with Lou Reed, so they say; hearing experienced, respected journalists swap tales about ‘the time they interviewed Lou Reed’ and got verbally shat on is almost like hearing veterans recounting their war stories. And yet, however many times he may have issued only mono-syllabic grunts, or answered questions by way of withering sarcasm, one particular defence of Reed occasionally appears: that he’s just a music geek and that all he really wants to do is sit down and talk about effects peddles and processors. But people don’t want to hear about it because they think it’ll be about as interesting as Lulu. Granted, this may be true, but isn’t that why musicians are musicians, because their passion, their obsession, is music?
Shouldn’t we be interested in their core motivations and their ability to coalesce all their influences, experiences and feelings into a tangible – and occasionally enthralling – expression of them?
In the early 90s Gylve Fenris ‘Fenriz’ Nagell as one half of the then black metal band Darkthrone, along with cohort Ted ‘Nocturno Culto’ Skjellum, helped lay the foundations for the sonic and aesthetic principals for what would eventually become one of the most controversial and misunderstood music scenes in history – with a trio of LPs often referred to as the ‘unholy trinity’, 92’s A Blaze In The Northern Sky, 93’s Under A Funeral Moon and 94’s seminal Transylvanian Hunger, Darkthrone found international recognition and went on to become one of the most influential bands to emerge from the Norwegian black metal scene. Nearly 30 years after forming, and having just released their 15th studio album in the shape of The Underground Resistance, they have traversed and almost totally left behind the black metal sound with which they are so synonymous erring more towards lo-fi crust punk and out-and-out heavy metal, yet they continue to command a large and dedicated fan base as well as continuing to influence countless bands not just sonically, but through their musical ideals and unshakable DIY attitude. Despite all this though, Darkthrone don’t ever play live; they record everything themselves using as basic equipment as possible; as a drummer Fenriz says he is actively trying to “un-learn” the drums and never plays except to rehearse and record; and they do virtually everything in their power to remain outside of a mainstream that becomes ever more obsessed with the cult rather than the music of black metal.
Fenriz doesn’t really want to talk about all this though; he doesn’t want to talk about black metal and a scene he no longer feels a strong attachment to, he wants to talk about heavy fucking metal. He is, to all intents and purposes a music geek; his insatiable hunger for acquiring, consuming and digesting music is legendary and has even led to him creating the celebrated Band Of The Week blog from which all the acts for the Live Evil festival are sourced. He is a musician because music is his passion, his obsession, and he Really knows his shit – as anyone who has watched his History Of Heavy Metal lecture on YouTube will no doubt attest. Would you want to continually talk about things that happened 20 years ago? Would you want to continually talk about the myths surrounding your dead or incarcerated friends? Or would you want to talk about your passions and the work that forms the most current, tangible expressions of them?
The new album is titled The Underground Resistance, which is something you have alluded to before – on the inside cover of Circle The Wagons For example – but for you who or what is the underground resistance?
Fenriz: Those who kept bands like Manilla Road and Cirith Ungol alive; those who have spread and showed interest in the NWOBHM movement in the last years; everyone holding a true sounding piece of recording high instead of championing plastic crap.
The sound and style of the album, especially when compared to the last two, is probably the least punk you have sounded in a while – to me it sounds like there is a lot more of early 80s, proto-thrash influences in there – is that fair to say? What was the reason behind slight change in style?
F: Proto thrash, as you called it, was all the bands playing fast heavy metal – sometimes called power metal, more often now called speed metal since power metal was co-opted by some increasingly flashy guys over the years and during the 90s; the first two Helloween albums were good power metal, but you might just want to call that speed metal today. Anyway, almost no metal bands played only fast metal (or ‘speed metal’) and by today’s standards it’s mid paced, not fast at all; it’s got that gospel d-beat speed, y’know? That’s what I’m into making and have been for years. But there was a punk band in the mid 80’s mixing up the fast NWOBHM and punk called Puke, from Sweden, and I put a lot of that vibe into my songs the last year, so as to not just make retro speed metal. As usual, about 0.1% of our ‘audience’ understood this. Fabulous. Anyway, I went more for the total speed metal style of Agent Steel’s first, 1985, full-length this time, but actually also returned to the typical 1985 Celtic Frost at some point too; this mystified even me!
‘Valkyrie’ especially is a particularly un-Darkthrone sounding track (if there can be such a thing!) – what’s the story behind its creation? Was it always intended to sound so epic?
F: The refrain came to me in spring 2010 – I actually had to hum it into my mp3 player! – it was kind of akin to the refrain in Helloween’s ‘How Many Tears’, from Walls Of Jericho. I’ve been die hard into Helloween and Agent Steel since they came out, at one point it reached critical mass and I just had to go there. (Well, I suppose I already did with the circle the wagons title track). Anyway, nothing happened with the Valkyrie song for a long time until I woke up with the first riff in my head in September 2011, then it sounded like the start of ‘The Ides Of March’ by Iron Maiden in my head, and I had to rearrange it and with a second, driving guitar and a beat like in ‘Gypsy’ by Uriah Heep circa 1970; it started sounding good in my head and then I just had to make the verse parts which were just inspired by myself and tons of speed metal (just yesterday I received another speed metal vinyl gem for my collection, the first album from Poland’s Turbo, from 1982, so you can see I’m still living the speed metal life, but this doesn’t mean that the album has only speed metal; of course many normal paced heavy songs are great too!) and Bob’s your uncle. It is very typical of what I would write in 1988, only I didn’t have the skills back then, neither playing skills nor writing skills, and I also mixed up my influences too much then – I feel I’m pretty much back to start with the same kind of freedom, only now with 25 years of experience on my back and in my mind.
Is there any scenario in which you could see Darkthrone playing live again?
F: We are setting up a four month tour of Bristol if we can get Richard Clayderman on bass and James Last as head stage-diver; we need that for the show.
What do you have to say to those ‘fans’ who continually cry and moan that “Darkthrone aren’t a black metal anymore”?
F: We weren’t at first either!
Is there still such a thing as ‘true black metal’?
F: Listen to The Return… by Bathory. How hard can it be, I still don’t think anyone has listened too much to 80’s black metal, and the more you do it the truer you fucking get!
How do you feel about the way the genre has gradually become fetishized by people more interested in the aesthetic and the controversy rather than the music?
F: It’s been like that for nearly 20 years... I liked the 10 years before that.
Even if black metal becomes like punk, where so-called ‘punk’ bands like Green Day are selling out arenas and going on MTV, how important is it for you that the ideals of black metal – the dedication and the DIY attitude, for example – are what survive?
F: Black metal already sold out arenas and did far worse things than MTV, they did, and do, The Eurovision Song Contest with crap like Keep Of Kalessin and the even more ridiculous Gromth. It’s embarrassing for everyone. Everyone. There are countless bands that always brought black metal to where it needs to be, like Aura Noir, Faustcoven, Deathhammer, but also the other side of it, like with the Nidrosian scene right now: Vemod, One Tail One Head, Mare, Black Majesty, Dark Sonority – countless bands really. But black metal didn’t need a push, not post 93, since then it’s needed more obscurity and hasn't got it. In the 90s it was heavy metal, the old way, that needed a push, and slowly we have pushed it forwards again; the underground resistance did that, not the big magazines, not the malls with their nu-metal sections, not the radio stations playing Volbeat and Rammstein. No. the underground resistance pushed heavy metal forwards since it was dying from 87 till 97.
What are your thoughts on bands like Liturgy or Winterfylleth who ostensibly ‘play’ black metal but don’t ‘live’ black metal – bands who use it as just another stylistic choice?
F: No problem. Ha ha! Do you prefer bands that look like they're from Twilight going to the circus and think that they are underground because their Cradle Of Filth/Dimmu Borgir rip off style doesn’t sell? Underground is an attitude, a Rammstein cover band will forever have an overground mentality even if no one comes to their shows. It’s about wanting to do some plastic style that others have success with, it’s disgusting.
Your Band Of The Week blog has achieved near legendary status – how do you manage to keep it up? What is the quality control like – do you find that as it has become more popular you get sent more and more shit?
F: I don’t have, like, an official address of course, I get enough tips to drown in from my carefully selected friends out there; friends of new and old who are trustworthy. I don’t really manage to keep it up though, it’s like it almost ends every week because I don’t have the time, although it’s not a lot of work once I have decided on a band/sound – as I hate writing about music I often just throw the link out or write a couple of lines. Arjan from Holland helps me immensely with the other pages like BOTW on Facebook and so on, I just do the little ditty on MySpace and he takes it from there. I couldn’t do it any other place than on the Darkthrone MySpace alone to be honest – I don’t even have time for a Facebook or Twitter account; I have to turn down fabulous offers weekly. Just earlier someone offered to make us a music video and all I had time for was to write back: “I just don’t want any modern shit”. Fact.
Who are two bands that everyone reading this interview should immediately go and check out, and why?
F: If you’re reading this because you want 91-94 Darkthrone maybe check out One Tail One Head. If you’re reading because you like metal just check out Demontage, a real cult forgotten band, I believe I made them a Band Of The Week as well; only for die hard and cult heavy metallers!