Detoxed But Not Disarmed
CoC chats with Zamoth/Samoth of Zyklon/Emperor
by: Paul Schwarz
OK, I guess you might be wondering why I've used that strange two names / two bands format on the interview header there. Well, essentially it's because Emperor founder and guitarist Samoth has put together a new full-time band, Zyklon (their name shortened from Samoth's retro side-project of five years ago, Zyklon-B), but the press release to their debut album, _World Ov Worms_ on Candlelight [reviewed in this issue], notes his name as Zamoth but does not specify whether this is his "Zyklon-name" or whether he has "officially" altered his pseudonym. Ultimately, it's not important: Zamoth (as I'll continue to reference him) should be judged by words and not deeds, and on this basis, his judgement is emerging as resoundingly favourable. For a band essentially constituting an offshoot of a band as big as Emperor, I found it surprising that I'd not even heard of Zyklon until after the _World Ov Worms_ promo was already in my possession. I probably just missed the hype, but once I found this out _World Ov Worms_ was soon after spinning in my CD drive. A percussive assault reminding me centrally of the impressive Myrkskog and flavoured with curious mechanical and electronic sections greeted my ears. Upon perusing the press release, I was hardly surprised to find a member of the aforementioned Myrkskog residing in Zyklon, and even less surprised that that "percussive assault" I mentioned was courtesy of Samoth's fellow Emperor (sic) Trym. In this interview from the latter part of December 2000 I attempted not only to extract from Zamoth as much about Zyklon as seemed appropriate, but also to delve into the past of Emperor (it being around a full decade since the band had first emerged) and further to try to ascertain what would be the course of their future actions -- whether there would be more than one more Emperor album before the band was no more, for example. I hope the results are informative.

CoC: Zyklon shows a huge mix of influences. It definitely doesn't sound the same as Emperor, but at the same time it doesn't sound -- y'know -- very specifically black metal. Would you say that you took a very different approach to how you wrote the music compared to how you did it with Emperor?

Zamoth: No, not really. I mean, I do not really ever decide what kind of music I write; I just write. And a lot of the music I write -- out of Emperor -- is rather more primitive. With Emperor I work together with Ihsahn and he's always developing my ideas into more symphonic ideas or monumental parts, and adding a lot of stuff, while with Zyklon we kind of kept it more in your face and straightforward, primitive and intense.

CoC: It's definitely more riff-heavy. It has a lot of that sort of machine-gun riff and drum work and things like that. Do you think using different people -- apart from Trym who does the drumming for Emperor, obviously -- like the guy from Myrkskog [Destructhor] made an impact?

Z: Yeah, he had a huge impact on the final outcome of the music, I think. I mean, me and Trym worked for it for, like, a while -- got the basic material ready -- but as soon as we got Destructhor in the band we got more like a unit and we improved all the songs and, yeah, got a more totality of the music.

CoC: It definitely shows an influence. I remember getting [Myrkskog's] _Deathmachine_ [CoC #47] nearly a year ago. And the sound of Zyklon reminded me of that somewhat, but far more developed...

Z: Yeah, there's a little, I can hear that. I think Myrkskog is actually more death metal and more -- Zyklon is even more intense and extreme in a way, I think. And also more sharp in sound.

CoC: I think so. It's a lot more of a -cutting-, -ripping- sound. One of the things about it is that it's almost completely the opposite to what you do with Emperor on a conceptual, lyrical scale. I mean, nowadays Emperor have developed a lot, but certainly in the beginning Emperor, like a lot of black metal bands, had this sort of throwback, past concept to it, whereas Zyklon is very much futuristic. What made you choose that slant and musically, what made you use electronic elements?

Z: Well, I guess it's because I'm a little bit more up-to-date, on-the-ball: living in today. I mean, I realise I don't live a thousand years ago. So I'm rather taking the inspiration maybe more from things that I absorb in this life. Before, with Emperor, we had a lot of this longing for the past, the old ancient days.

CoC: Medievalism and that sort of thing.

Z: Yeah. So in a way I kind of grew tired of that whole concept. I still have an interest in the old days, but my main influence these days is more like horror from the real life of today.

CoC: What was the motivation behind the title "World Ov Worms"?

Z: Well, that title is obviously open to interpretation, but it's based around the song "Worm World". So, it's just like a twist on that title and that specific lyric is a quite primitive hate-text describing human depravity, in a way.

CoC: Unfortunately I don't have a lyrics sheet, but I do know from the press release that Faust did the lyrics. I know from reading interviews that you've kept in contact with Faust through his prison sentence, but I was curious why you chose to use his lyrics for this project. Was it due to his involvement in the -other- incarnation of Zyklon, Zyklon-B?

Z: No, it was not really due to that, it's just that we have a good communication and he has for these last years been doing a lot of studies while he's been in prison and he's on a university level now on the religion of history. So he has a lot of intellectual insight into the topics of religion and history and this whole thing. And I gave him some ideas and hinted that maybe he could come up with some lyrics and he wrote a set of lyrics and it was really good stuff. So he will be doing the lyrics for the next album as well. I think he's a big part of the conceptual side of the band, actually.

CoC: And I'm assuming that that makes you quite happy, working with him again.

Z: Yeah, yeah, and I think it's also good for him. He's also a bit more active in the scene again.

CoC: Any idea of him taking over on drums at any point?

Z: Actually he did some drums on -- you know the band Sirius which I released on Nocturnal Art?

CoC: No.

Z: It's a Portuguese black metal band. He did some drums on their new album, actually, which is coming out on Nocturnal Art in March [reviewed in this issue -- Paul].

CoC: What would you think of him doing drumming for Zyklon?

Z: Yeah, I mean he still has several years to go in prison. I don't know how good his talent is these days.

CoC: Fair enough, I guess they don't allow you those sorts of things. [Thank you, Mr. Obvious... DOH! -- Paul]

Z: No, it's strict.

CoC: OK. Basically, with Zyklon being a full-time band, as you've stated [in the press and promotion] a number of times, how is that gonna fit in with Emperor? And on that note, could you address the rumours that have been going around that the next Emperor album may be the last one?

Z: Uuuuuuh, well... I mean, we haven't made any decisions about that being the last one or not, that's just rumours because we're not -- I mean, we have now officially said we're not gonna be an active touring band for this new album and Ihsahn has a few bands on the side and I have Zyklon on the side, so I think due to all these things people started to think: is this gonna be the last? And who knows, maybe it will be the last, but it's never been a decision: we have not made a decision that this next Emperor album is the last one.

CoC: Fair enough.

Z: And, as I said, Ihsahn has a few bands on the side and so do I -- so I feel I have the time for it as well, especially now that Emperor is not gonna be an active touring band. It's no problem to have Zyklon as a full-time band.

CoC: Are you looking forward to touring with Zyklon?

Z: Yeah, absolutely.

CoC: Where are you guys heading out to?

Z: Well, we've done a few gigs in Norway now -- last month and this month and we have a few more gigs coming up in the beginning of 2001 and then hopefully we'll be off on a full European tour in April or May.

CoC: So how's the whole kind of sound been working live? 'Cause, I mean, the majority of the material is, you know, riffs, drums and vocals, but I think for me what makes the album a lot more special and good is that -- for example, on "Chaos Deathcult" and "Zykloned" -- it spirals off into electronic parts which really work.

Z: Yeah. That's the thing, like, live we won't be having all those effects as we have on the album -- except for "Zykloned", the mid-part, obviously we'll have the industrial part 'cause that's half of the song. Can't leave that out. But so far it's been working quite OK live. It's really intense, I mean everybody who saw us was like: wow, it's brutal! And also I think with Daemon [of Limbonic Art -- Paul], he is a very good stage character. He's got a very strong charisma.

CoC: His vocals worked really well on the album.

Z: Yeah, yeah. So he's doing very well, looking like he's gonna kill ya...!

CoC: So he'll probably continue as vocalist? You're hoping he'll join? [The PR for Zyklon has him down as doing live work but not necessarily being a permanent member; he is not in the press photos. -- Paul]

Z: Yeah, he is actually to be seen as a permanent member now. So he's gonna follow us all next year on live stuff and on the next album.

CoC: When is the next album planned for? Do you have any ideas of where you wanna go with it?

Z: No, not really. I mean, we'll have to see how much touring we're gonna be doing first. Probably, if that is going well, maybe we'll have another tour in the Autumn. Then it will take a long time before we get started on the new album. And it's depending on Emperor: how well the new album is doing and... yeah <sighs>, many things and the label and everything.

CoC: The two guests on the album -- Trickster G [a.k.a. Garm, of Ulver] and [US fetish queen] Persephone -- did they help only with vocals or did they also help with the electronic parts?

Z: No, they were only doing vocals.

CoC: So the electronic parts are just something that you and the band decided to include just for variety and interest?

Z: Yeah. Intentionally, like in the beginning, we wanted to use more electronic parts, but after a while we found out that the basic drums and guitar worked by itself as well so we didn't feel we needed to add any more than was necessary.

CoC: On the subject of Emperor, what is the status of Emperor at the moment? What is the band doing? Is the album planned? What ideas do you have?

Z: Yeah, I would say with Emperor it's quite -- we are on a quite positive vibe at the moment. Of course there has been quite a long silence now for some time. I mean, since we did the last gig for _IX Equilibrium_ in, I think it was Poland, October last year [remember that's 1999 -- Paul] and since then we didn't really play together until now. So it's been a long silence, but now we are getting back together and working again and Ihsahn has got all the material ready for the new album and so we hope to start to record it in January. But it might be a bit later. So, if all goes according to plan, then it should be ready for a Spring release, but most likely it's gonna be in Autumn.

CoC: Do you think the fact that the band's been over a year apart from touring will change the vibe of the album a lot, because you won't have been playing together, on a stage, for so long?

Z: No, but I think the change may be the vibe a bit between us as, uh, people, because in the end, not everybody was overly excited about this touring and we some bullshit with some of the tours, so I think it was good for us to just have a little break, to get things into perspective. Now I feel it's a positive vibe going.

CoC: That's cool. It should be interesting to see what that results in. OK, on a different tack I wanted to see what you said to some ideas of mine. I think when black metal started, it started in many respects as a reaction against other musical styles, against the way that things had gone in music. I don't know whether you'd agree with that, but certainly the way that Euronymous put it was that, like, the death metal scene had killed whatever vibe came from the earlier "death metal" music. When you were originally doing Emperor, if you can remember, on the one hand were you strongly influenced by either Euronymous personally or that whole ethos, and in other respects were you kind of trying to create something evil, trying to create something -like- something else?

Z: Well, when we started Emperor -- well, I mean, it was me who started it and I started it with the intention of creating, like, to... almost copy Celtic Frost and Bathory. And that was like: we gotta make old school extreme black metal. And Celtic Frost and Bathory were my favourite bands, so we took them as direct influences. If you listen to the _Wrath of the Tyrant_ demo you can easily hear it. It's nothing original, really. As for this Euronymous... I mean, obviously we were really young back then and he was pretty much older than everybody else back then and he was like -the- character in the Norwegian scene, and he was the leader of Mayhem and the Deathlike Silence [label], the Helvete shop and everything, and so obviously he had quite some respect from people and he managed to put quite a lot of influence to people.

CoC: Would you say that Emperor would have progressed -- I mean one of the things that I thought of was: if Euronymous hadn't have died, hadn't have been killed in 1993, how would things have been different? Because in the end where black metal has got to in the year 2000, it's a significant, recognised musical scene and it's progressed in a huge, crazy sort of way -- none of which seems to have been his, or anyone else's, intention at the original point. Do you think Emperor and other bands would have progressed if Euronymous hadn't disappeared from the scene?

Z: Yes, I think so, but it's difficult to imagine how it would be if he hadn't died. But I mean, he wasn't like a god, he didn't decide everything, so I think it's natural for a human being to progress. And a lot of the black metal bands then were teenagers or [in their] really early twenties. So if you stop progressing at that age -- it's not normal, it's normal to have an evolution in your life. But I noticed a change with him as well, because in the beginning he was like: underground, underground, everything was really very strict underground. But they were running Deathlike Silence for many years and it went nowhere: they were broke, they had nothing and it was crap, really. At some point you have to kind of earn some money to get anywhere. So there was a certain time when he kind of like, changed his attitudes, like to get the bands big and get the money so that you can build up your own thing stronger. In a way that's what happened, but it has got a little bit out of hand because the term "black metal", it's completely watered out. Like, what is black metal today? I don't really know. I mean, you have all kinds of bands claiming to play black metal and the original idea is completely gone.

CoC: It seems so ridiculous now when you get bands who sort of come out, make their production values extremely low and basically try and copy, I don't know, _Wrath of the Tyrant_ or [Darkthrone's] _A Blaze in the Northern Sky_ or what have you, and say: right, this is true black metal. It's kind of like, in the end you can't just keep ripping off the same bands and calling it true...

Z: No, exactly. I mean, you kill the genre by doing that. There has to be some fresh blood. Also,I think you have the stuff that's going a bit softer: you have all this keyboard, like these Cradle copies and I'm not thinking of Cradle of Filth but all the copy bands, third generation bands copying Dimmu Borgir and Cradle. I mean, such bands, they are not interesting at all. I think these bands are watering things out. And then you have the ones who're really extreme, who don't know how to play anything, who just make some noise and say: this is true and it's whatever.

CoC: Do you think that now black metal has become diverse or do you think that many bands have simply ceased to be black metal bands? 'Cause I mean, with Emperor, Mayhem and pretty much most other major black metal bands apart from Darkthrone, you all branched out in what I'd say was a very interesting and good way. I have no problem with that, but it's certainly not the same as what you were doing years ago.

Z: No.

CoC: And would you say that that's progressive black metal or would you say that that's ceased to be black metal?

Z: Well, I guess that's open for interpretation, but for me it's not really that important that Emperor has to be labelled as black metal today -- but it started as a black metal band and I still have quite the same ideas as I had before. I still have some of these ideas, but musically we have kind of progressed, like beyond what people used to think of as black metal. I don't really see any problem with that.

CoC: What's interesting about black metal, is that in a similar way to punk -- I mean punk on a musical level to some extent tries to rebel against things, but certainly on a social level it was an expression of rebellion. I'd say with black metal what's interesting is that, through a musical style which was trying to repeat the past, I think people managed -- yourselves, possibly Mayhem, possibly others -- to actually reach new places. I'd say for example Dodheimsgard did that.

Z: I think that is really cool. I mean, we started this thing with strong inspirations from a genre which basically was dead, almost. I mean when this rise of black metal came in Norway in '92/'93, bands like Bathory and Venom, they were completely out. So we kind of brought that thing in again and we took inspirations from these bands but then we developed and mixed it with our own personal musical ideas. And developed, in a way, a new form of extreme music.

CoC: I think maybe somehow it's kind of, in one sense, highlighted that kind of darker, earlier thrash feel and in another sense, kind of put a lot of that back into music. Even as far forward as Zyklon, the riffing is not all from the late '80s; a lot of it is kind of a darker, harder sound.

Z: Yeah.

CoC: Which you've kind of gone back to.

Z: Absolutely.

CoC: Do you have any final words for us?

Z: "Check out the album" is basically all I've gotta say.

(article submitted 13/5/2001)

4/26/2006 J Smit 8 Zyklon - Disintegrate
9/21/2003 J Smit 9 Zyklon - Aeon
5/13/2001 P Azevedo 9 Zyklon - World Ov Worms
6/12/2003 J Smit Zyklon / Myrkskog / Reign of Erebus / Void The World Ov Worms Descends on London
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