Of the Lupine Lords That Lurk in the Shadows
CoC interviews Fenriz of Darkthrone
by: David Rocher
"Darkthrone, Holy Darkthrone" -- when the now literally mythical Norwegians' sophomore _Soulside Journey_ was released by Peaceville a full ten years ago, after Darkthrone's demo _Thulcandra_ had already earned great reviews in the extreme metal subterranea, little could possibly have foretold that this obscure, darkened death metal band were in time to become the uncontested, all-godlike flamebearers of the Satanic Norwegian blackness which took the metal world by storm in the mid-nineties. With their consecutive releases -- the savage, enrapturing _A Blaze in the Northern Sky_, the bleak _Under a Funeral Moon_ and the chilling _Transylvanian Hunger_ -- Darkthrone then unwittingly began to set, in their own concealed, obscure and meaningful ways, landmarks in the brimstone landscapes of black metal by which countless hordes of derivative and more-or-less inspired impious hordes were to be rated. And with the darkness, came secrecy -- the utterly black, evil and almost unfathomable shroud which always so fittingly cloaked Darkthrone's myth also fed the wildest contradictory rumours and beliefs -- and gradually, as a new tombstone was added to the landscape in the guise of each of Darkthrone's new releases, the intangible, obscure Norwegian growing legend thrived and strengthened, letting no light be shed on it other than a grim, blackened aura that gradually evolved into a near-religious form of reverence -- "Darkthrone, Holy Darkthrone". Needless to say, I felt both graced and definitely apprehensive when, shortly after the release of Darkthrone's seventh full-length, _Ravishing Grimness_, I accepted an interview with the emblematic black metal personage named Fenriz -- for who, other than Darkthrone's lyricist, could better embody the most inscrutable, impenetrable darkness I was ever to encounter? In fact, adding to the mystery that will always enshroud this band, even with my numerous questions politely and extensively answered, what Fenriz accepted to disclose of himself revealed him as a startlingly acute, affable and talkative person -- who nonetheless retains a form of unfathomable, extremely disconcerting shape-shifting obscurity into which, I presume, no interviewer may ever be let. So come now, and revel in the shadow of the horns...

CoC: It's been a while since _Total Death_ was released, and many rumours had announced Darkthrone had split up -- so what's Darkthrone been up to, exactly?

Fenriz: Well, Nocturno Culto has been settling down, trying to find a steady place to live; he's used a lot of energy in his life to try and find himself the right, the right home... He's been settling down with kids and things, and I've basically been feeding my ears, because I did a lot creative things from '92 to '95, and maybe I got "burned out", so I've been mostly just listening to music, and breaking barriers when it comes down to what sort of music I listen to.

CoC: What barriers?

F: Well, what it means to me is to listen to music that I normally wouldn't have been interested in ten years ago, so that would be extreme, for me. I mean, it's almost quite disgusting to listen to old Commodores, but I'm getting into it! <laughs>

CoC: <definitely skeptical> So, you mean music that completely leaves the field of metal?

F: No, no! It's always in metal, I'm proud to say I'm always a death metal fan, so it's metal everyday for me -- but it's a lot of other things everyday too. Music is larger than life for me; this occurred to me maybe three or four years ago, and it's totally exploded in my life, so I've just been into getting a huge record collection. But I have to tell you that for Darkthrone influences, Nocturno Culto and I just listen to what we always did, because we don't want to change. The thing is that if I listen to all this weird stuff -- and Nocturno Culto is also listening to a lot of psytrance -- it doesn't influence our sound at all, because this is important for us. A lot of people get very enthusiastic when they discover a new style of music, and they try to... no, they don't try, they -put- it with the music that they play, and then it comes like a new style, entertainment, crossover or stuff, but not what I would call the old school black metal that Darkthrone is about. Any influences coming from the new things we listen to will not enter Darkthrone, we will just stay the same.

CoC: <gradually losing foot!> You just said Nocturno Culto is pretty much into techno...

F: <cutting across> It's mostly psytrance. Uh, it's just that we're not talking about this or that trance, we're talking about -psytrance-. <chuckles> It's really important for us, it's like what we are discussing right now -- we know the difference between death and black metal, so it's important to get things right. I'm more of the aesthetic techno, underground techno, house and everything, and he's getting into darker drum 'n' bass, but I've been through all possible styles within the electronic field, and I'm still into that. I'm checking out a lot of older music, now.

CoC: So what do you think of the way several black metal bands, among which Samael and Arcturus, despite never having been really raw black metal bands, have recently opened their sounds to electronics; I'm particularly referring to Samael post-_Passage_ era, and to Arcturus' latest output, _Disguised Masters_?

F: I haven't really heard either -- I haven't heard the latest Arcturus, and I haven't really checked out Samael since the first one! <laughs> But I love the first Samael, it was important. They were a very important band for us -- not that we're inspired by them, but it was a great thing that they could stay occult at a time when the scene was not really interested in this. The same thing goes for bands like Tormentor and Sarcofago.

CoC: And what do you think of the more industrial way...

F: <cutting across> I don't like Fear Factory, for instance...

CoC: <also cutting across!> I was more precisely thinking of a band like Attila Csihar's band, Aborym.

F: Oh, Aborym? Is that Italian? I haven't heard it yet... I'm supposed to be sent a copy of that, because I was meant to do an interview with a guy who's playing in the band. When he explained the idea, it sounded like old Necromantia -- it was black metal, and then some esoteric parts like Cold Meat Industry bands. It sounded like he was analysing some old Necromantia things, because I was into Necromantia for several years.

CoC: To get back to _Ravishing Grimness_...

F: Oh yeah, I completely forgot! <we laugh>

CoC: What does it represent to you in terms of Darkthrone's life?

F: For us, it's one more nail in the coffin <laughs> -- just another album, really! We don't try to make a big thing about it -- of course we are, actually, because we're doing all these interviews; but I've been told to do interviews and to be nice! <we laugh>

CoC: I'm glad you're broaching this -- you do it rather well, actually...

F: Well, because I fucked up so many things I said in the earlier years, so... we're trying to hold the distribution that we have, but I think I'm actually undermining the credibility of Darkthrone by doing all these interviews. But at least we're not doing more photos -- we haven't been doing photos since '93, so why the hell should we start now? We should have decided then to do it in the _Total Death_ era. If I were a Darkthrone fan seeing all these things from the outside, I would not want to read all these interviews, see new photo sessions in a nice studio and that shit -- but for us too, this is -not- a good idea.

CoC: Fair enough. That's comprehensible to me...

F: I usually use this argument, and now you will hear my argument <speaking with a deadly serious tone>, and I'm saying: I've been liking Bathory since '86, and you don't see me crying for new photos! <we both laugh> So if Bathory can do this, why the fuck can't we, man?! <we laugh again> Basically, we're not trying to say we are changing anything with this new album, but we are offering one more alternative to the new school style, which is now dominant in the scene, while we are still able to make some old school shit, so that the people who are interested in that can also have something to listen to. We're sort of Samaritans! <laughs>

CoC: I was looking at the lyrics sheet I received with _Ravishing Grimness_...

F: <cutting across> There's a lot of misprints there, but it's not my fault, I'm not the dyslexic! <laughs>

CoC: I was quite surprised by the lyrics, actually...

F: I know, it's just me, I'm a big cry-baby, and I've been having some problems with my mind recently, so I'm writing a lot about that, and a lot about death and hatred and things.

CoC: It looks like a lot of instinctive writing...

F: <ponders> Hmm, it's instinctive, but it is also poetic, and it is sort of calculated, because I have been writing lyrics for a long, long time, and I have a certain set of aesthetic rules that I won't change; and I'm also trying to put these words into the mouth of the guy who's singing, which is Nocturno Culto, so I'm trying to make words that are great, and cut out in rock for some of them -- but they still must be something new, and still must be good for Nocturno Culto to sing them. It's a very difficult job, and this time I worked my ass off for that shit, and it feels like we're moving a lever for every word. It's painful.

CoC: And how did you come across words like "necrohate", "panzergrim"?

F: For me, they're totally logical. "Panzer" is like "very", so it's something "very grim". These are small details that are very important for me -- a good example of a new word is "deathsane", instead of "insane". A very strange word, but I knew exactly what it meant for me when I wrote it down, but now I think I've forgotten already. <he pauses> There's a lot of pain involved here, and I think my mind has attempted to suppress it when I couldn't deal with it.

CoC: The way the mind automatically tends to sort good memories from bad ones...

F: Yeah! <he chuckles nervously> Man, my life is totally fucked!

CoC: So "necrohated" would then mean "hated to death"?

F: Yeah. To me, it's also a magical word, "hating to death" means you're so rotten that even the angels hate you, because usually, they won't hate you. [The quote from the track "Claws of Time" is "Necrohated by angels..." -- David]

CoC: _Ravishing Grimness_ also has a very melancholic-sounding track, "Claws of Time", which is rather unusual by Darkthrone standards...

F: Oh yeah, yeah... People keep mentioning that track, but I didn't make it, so there! <laughs> I don't know, but if you saw the fucking place where Nocturno Culto is living now, maybe you'd understand, because it's rather beautiful, and the place where he lives sounds like the opening riff. I'm in nature the whole fucking time, and he lives in nature too, and although he doesn't go out walking in the mountains, I still think he uses nature as a source of inspiration. When I make riffs, I don't refer to that anymore, because I'm really close to nature all the time. [I suppose Fenriz meant that he had got used to nature, and didn't actually notice it any more -- David] I spend two or three days a week in the forest when I can -- because we have a problem with the weather here in Oslo, it's really unstable --, but the thing is that when I write riffs, I rather think of smoking and drinking beer, and Hellhammer and shit. I think Nocturno Culto takes care of the melodies now.

CoC: I noticed _Ravishing Grimness_ has no more lyrics in Norwegian...

F: No, there's just a line in there which is Norwegian. We were the first band to sing in Norwegian, and that was very brave. What happened at that time was I had been told by the guys from a Norwegian band called [I couldn't quite make out what Fenriz said at this point, it sounded like "Moment" -- David], they were around in '85-'86, and made -excellent- death metal, but they broke up, and the two guys started playing for Mayhem. So they told us, "hey, it's about time somebody sung in Norwegian" -- by then, they [the band] weren't about to do it, because they didn't want to play any more; so I guess I just had that in the back of my mind for a couple of years before I actually wrote some lyrics -- it's very suitable for being sung by Nocturno Culto. After that, I think a lot of people tried to sing in Norwegian, and some of it's been great, and some of it's been not so great. When you sing in your own language, you should be really careful about using the words. It easily feels pathetic for us, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't work, I don't know. I don't want to mean that I've done everything perfectly, but still <Fenriz suddenly cuts off> -- but we didn't have any lyrics in Norwegian on _A Blaze in the Northern Sky_, so what's the big deal, man? <laughs> [This is indeed true, but Darkthrone -did- use Norwegian lyrics on releases consecutive to _A Blaze..._, which is where my question arose from -- David]

CoC: What do you think of Darkthrone's earlier albums when you look back upon them?

F: The point is that Nocturno Culto and me really agree on this: when we look upon the albums, we're looking at things that happened in our lives, around this album, whereas the people that will read your interview and have the albums will not -- they will just think about the music, that's all. It's really not that interesting, and when people ask me if I have a favourite album, I'd rather say I have favourite songs. You have what studio it was recorded in, things that don't matter to the audience at all -- and also, this has nothing to do with what the album will sound like for the audience. I don't really travel much, so when I'm in the studio, it's like very exciting for me, I'm getting out of Oslo, and that's what I'm thinking about <laughs> -- the car trip, the cheeseburger I ate on the way and things like this, and that uninteresting shit! <laughs> Well, at least we never used more than 30 hours to make an album, this time neither. We just go straight in and straight out again, and it goes very quickly. This time it took four days with the mix and everything like that! <he stops> But why am I saying this?! <laughs as though he's embarrassed> I didn't fucking remember, sorry! <chuckles>

CoC: <totally disconcerted> Erm -- no problem at all... <after a bewildered pause> After _Soulside Journey_ had disclosed Darkthrone as being an excellent occult death metal band, with _A Blaze in the Northern Sky_ you actually created a musical and thinking style, with the raw sound and repetitive riffing of the Norwegian black metal style, that actually became a trademark which thousands then followed -- how did you first move towards this musical extremism?

F: Uh -- I'm going to give you a really long answer now, I guess. The thing is, we had all the important albums from before in the eighties, because we bought all that shit you -need- to make black metal, like everyone else thought they all had the right albums, like Hellhammer, old Bathory, and that shit. But then we got totally worked up in the underground and death metal scene, at least I did, and there were compilation tapes out, and death metal was still pretty uninteresting shit, and I think it was late '89, and I remember the whole side A was nothing really interesting for me, and the first song on side B was sung by Tormentor, from Hungary. And I was like, "ooooh yeah, that -old- feeling, this is IT", and suddenly, the interest was there again, it was just like picking up the whole fucking Destruction and Kreator shit again, and this time I saw it in a new light, in what I would call a -black- light, then I hooked up with Mayhem pretty quickly after that -- I hadn't been talking with Mayhem for about a year at that time -- and thought "this is really where it is". Still we were playing death metal, and even better death metal after _Soulside Journey_ -- the _Goatlord_ stuff that we made was really good riffs, and would be one killer death metal album, but we couldn't really continue, because the rest of the band was also starting to get into the whole sound of Bathory and Celtic Frost, and that was IT for us, except for our bass player, who wanted to play more technical, so he had to leave. This was it, and one thing that I have to say is that we're still doing this primitive style, and this is because we've already been through the evolution of the band -- you know, we started playing, and we weren't really good in the start, and then suddenly we could play difficult things in death metal, and playing a lot of complex drum stuff and shit like that, and we've been through it, so when we took the decision that we wanted to play black metal, it was like "we will not play technical again", at least not in black metal, but a lot of black metal bands you see today are totally technical -- it even sounds like death metal with some minor changes. These are bands that haven't gone through the evolution first; they started out as black metal, and the natural evolution still has to happen, and it happens within black metal. We took that outside black metal, we didn't start playing black metal until we were finished with the evolution, that's why it's easy for us to make primitive black metal. Other people I know have really big problems if they play a riff eight times in a row -- they become very insecure and think "this is boring, this is shit", but it's not -- it's like, just listen to Hellhammer -- if you like that, it's not shit to play primitive!

CoC: Sure. And where did the idea of the really thin sound come from?

F: The thin sound is typical Bathory, along the lines of _Bathory_ and _Under the Sign of the Black Mark_, there you have the really thin sound, and this is what we want. You have a totally thin sound on an album like _Eternal Devastation_ by Destruction.

CoC: It's pretty amazing now when you see the number of bands that took to this sound.

F: Well, I think Immortal, for instance, went through the same thing, and Burzum too -- Count Grishnack was a part of Old Funeral and shit, and I think we have the same background, and Emperor also had the same type of background, and Mayhem was there too, to keep it all together. And then Thorns were there, and they were among the ones who really invented the typical Norwegian black metal riffing, which is sort of special. I don't wan to hum it to you <laughs>, but I can easily tell you what that sort of riffing is all about. That's really the typical Norwegian sound, and what the press have been saying is typically Norwegian often isn't -- but they don't really know. But I've seen the history -- I've been there, so I know what's what!

CoC: And this black metal movement actually grew more than anything you could expect, and actually became a social movement...

F: Yeah, but that's because it leaked through to the press, and all the shit. I'm always going back to '91/'92 when I think about the black metal shit. I can't deal with all this press, man, it's horrible, man, horrible. I wasn't really smiling back in '94, I can tell you! <laughs> That was a fucking drag, man!

CoC: Was this the reason why Darkthrone was such a secretive band back then?

F: Yeah, we didn't want to do that media thing. I was like hanging around in Euronymous' shop back in '91-'92, and I thought it was great, but Zephyrous and Nocturno Culto quickly drew out of that small circle because they thought it was beginning to look like a social club, and we were like -- eight! No big thing, you know? We were all centred here in Oslo, but no-one actually came from Oslo. In '90, there was actually not one single black metal dude in Oslo -- it's only 500 000 people here, but you can imagine how small it all was at that time. Later there were like eight, ten of us, and then that grew into a stronger following. Enslaved and Emperor were also important, although Enslaved didn't want to be part of the black metal scene, they wanted to do that Viking stuff, and then you had like Satyricon and Gorgoroth coming into the scene, and then other bands from Bergen, like Hades and others, and I'm sure I'm forgetting some -- it's really embarrassing when I do. <chuckles> There were just a few of us, but it was really disgusting when that whole thing blew up in the press, it was so tabloid. That's also why I liked to keep playing old school, like nothing ever happened, you know? I'm living a lie!!!! <laughs> We'll just do old school stuff until the day we die.

CoC: What does Darkthrone represent to you now, as an individual?

F: It represents at least that I'm very proud that I was born when I was born, so that I could be able to take my place in creating a strong style. That's great, to have released at least a couple of classics, that is fucking beautiful. That makes me feel that I am someone, but I don't know if people will remember this thirty years from now -- at least I hope they will remember Mayhem.

CoC: Darkthrone were also granted a nearly "religious" status throughout these years...

F: Not after I've been doing all these interviews! <laughs> I feel I'm exposing Darkthrone to death, I'm really worried about this situation.

CoC: I don't really follow you -- do you think Darkthrone audiences are going to turn their backs on the band now?

F: Well, I would! <hesitates> I don't know, man, I've been told to be polite and to have as much fun as possible, but the typical Darkthrone fan may not be into so much fellowship... but I am, you know?

CoC: Do you think it would actually be preferable for the band not to give any interviews at all?

F: Well, it would be... preferable, actually, but it would be killing for the label. But I wouldn't mind -- there was a long, long period when we did no interviews, and I have no problems with that. The rumours will still circulate, I don't even do interviews to stop rumours, I usually get misquoted a lot, so the rumours will always be there. I'm just talking, and talking... Where I was brought up, my first six years were like I had no kids around to play with, so I'm doing all the talking I missed then! <laughs> But at some point, I had a lot of people refusing to do interviews with me. They were expecting that I would be really mean! <chuckles>

CoC: Talking about this, what do you think of the often excessively misanthropic attitude that is displayed by many followers of the black metal genre?

F: Oh, I think it's important to go through this sort of phase the first two or three years, I really do. If you get that black metal feeling, man, you're not the most positive character in the world, you know? But this wears off, but it's important that I've had this, that I've been through this myself, and I've been enemies with a lot of people I never should have been enemies with, and all that shit, but I think that was necessary for me, and I hope a lot of people will be like that. But I guess you're a bit sick to start with when you -are- into the likes of Morbid Angel and stuff -- it's "blessed are the sick", man! <chuckles>

CoC: OK, thanks for your time, Fenriz -- what are the chances seeing Darkthrone on tour?

F: Well, unless we're shipped away against our will, you won't get to see us, because we don't like to travel, and to play live, we want Newman from the "Seinfeld" series playing bass for us, and if we don't get that, we want JR from "Dallas". <chuckles> And I think this will not happen. And even if it does, we will only tour in Peru! <laughs>

(article submitted 13/5/2001)


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