Seasons in the Abyss
CoC chats with King Ov Hell of Gorgoroth
by: Jackie Smit
Numerous run-ins with local authorities, charges of assault and battery... It's been an almost surreal two years for Norway's Gorgoroth, and certainly it could quite reasonably be argued that their mounting misdemeanours have garnered them quite a reputation as the bad boys of black metal -- as well as a host of new fans. Let it be known, however, that none of this means much to them. In fact, just in case anyone had fears that fame could spoil one of the most stubbornly non-conformist troupes to hail from black metal's spiritual birthplace, their new album _Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam_ should provide proof enough that the Gorgoroth who started philosophizing with a hammer over a decade ago aren't going anywhere soon. I spoke to bassist Tom Visnes, a.k.a. King Ov Hell, to get the skinny on the new record, the band's move to Regain Records and much more.

CoC: Gorgoroth's popularity has been very steadily on the rise for the last two or three years now, and one of the first things that struck me about the new album is the fact that despite all of this, it's still an extremely aggressive and violent piece of music. It's almost like you were saying: "We may be slightly more popular, but as far as our core musical values are concerned, there's nothing that's changed in the slightest." Does that sound way off base?

Tom Visnes: I'm not sure really, because I started writing the material for this album in 2002 already, so everything you hear was composed between 2002 and 2004. I also wrote the majority of the music almost straight after the previous record, and what I wanted to do this time was to create something that had a rougher production and was sped up a bit because I was not 100% satisfied with how _Twilight of the Idols_ turned out. This was the Gorgoroth album that I wanted to make.

CoC: I did enjoy _Twilight of the Idols_ very much, but I definitely see your point. Comparing it to an album like _Destroyer_, it does seem relatively tame.

TV: The production is clearer and it's slower and just generally more measured. On this one, we haven't recorded it using a click track or anything like that -- it's just pure energy from the studio, and also the fact that Frost (Satyricon) was doing drums for us also had an impact on how it sounds, because he has a very militant style and that worked really well with our music.

CoC: That militant style is particularly prevalent, I think, on the album's second track ("Carving a Giant"), where it really works especially well. But how did you guys get Frost to drum on the album?

TV: Well, sometime in 2003 -- right after we had released _Twilight of the Idols_ -- our former permanent drummer, Kvitrafn, left the band, and since then we haven't had a drummer at all. We've just used different session drummers for live appearances. Basically I just asked Frost if he'd be interested. He really liked the new material, and he's also very familiar with Gorgoroth. He's been involved with the band since the beginning, and he actually did some drums on _Antichrist_ and a couple of songs worth on _Destroyer_. He's also toured with us a lot in both 1349 and Satyricon, so it was a natural choice. When I asked him I had already composed most of the music on my computer, and he came around to my house and did everything there. I had the patterns and everything all ready to go, but he had some ideas of his own.

CoC: So I expect that the reason for the delay between finishing the album and writing the music was directly related to the legal troubles that you guys have been having for the past eighteen months?

TV: Yeah, it was partly that, but we also toured quite a bit over the last couple of years -- we've done about fifty shows every year for the last couple of years. Also, even though we did all the basic stuff on my computer, the final recording took a long time. Frost lives quite far from us in Oslo, and so between that and getting some time in the studio, and overcoming all the other problems that we were having with changing labels and whatnot, the whole recording process took about fourteen months.

CoC: One thing that this new album does have in common with _Twilight of the Idols_ is that it's very short -- and in some ways almost bordering on being too short. Was leaving the album at that length a conscious decision that you all made, or was it another symptom of the additional difficulties you've been having over the course of the last two years?

TV: We did actually have more material for this album, but when we listened to it all, we found that the tracks that you have on end result were the ones that were defining the album. It really didn't feel like we needed more. I'm not fond of bands that seem to try their best to create records that are fifty minutes plus every time they go into the studio. We try to capture the listener for thirty minutes and give them quality instead of quantity. Besides the best metal album in my opinion is Slayer's _Reign in Blood_, and that lasts for twenty eight minutes. We sometimes get lower ratings in magazines because our albums are shorter, but we don't care.

CoC: Well, as I mentioned in my review, I don't think that a long album would necessarily suit your style in any case.

TV: Absolutely, and we also feel like there's already a lot of elements being thrown into all these songs, and we try to make each album into something where a person has to listen to it several times before you get everything that's on there. At the length that the last two albums have been, that's quite long enough, I think. We want to keep things very focused for those thirty minutes that the album is running.

CoC: One of the big things that happened with Gorgoroth between the last two albums that you referred to earlier was the label change, and I was interested to know why you chose to switch from Nuclear Blast to Regain.

TV: It all happened in 2004, when we had all the scandals and when the whole incident in Poland had just happened, plus the fact that we are Satanists. I think all those things combined were just a little too much for them to handle. It wasn't a healthy relationship in the end really, and it was one that we didn't feel was going to be able to continue anymore.

CoC: Did they actually physically say anything to you when all of 2004's goings on were taking place?

TV: It was very clear that they weren't happy, because they're a big company, and they do have a lot of other bands on their label, and ultimately things like this could affect their business. It's about reputation, I think.

CoC: Were you surprised when they turned around and expressed their displeasure at what was happening, after essentially knowing what they signed up for when they took you guys on?

TV: Not really. As I said, they're a big company, and at the end of the day I think we got what we wanted out of them. We released three records through them and effectively we were able to use the channels that they have access to for distribution and for promoting ourselves. Having already gotten that, it seemed almost natural that we then go to a label like Regain, who because we are a bigger band on their roster, are more hardworking for us and we're definitely a bigger priority for them. On Nuclear Blast they have way bigger bands than Gorgoroth, and that makes the situation very different. So far Regain have stood by every word that they have said to us, and we're very happy with how the situation has turned out thus far.

CoC: As I mentioned earlier, seeing you in London really underlined for me how popular you have become, and not to take away anything from your music, but the shitstorm that was the Krakow gig of 2004 certainly ended up doing a lot to stir up public interest in Gorgoroth. Looking back on that, what are your thoughts on the extent to which that incident was blown out of proportion, and also on how far you have come as a band since then?

TV: Of course, we didn't go there to create a scandal. It just happened. We presented our band with our usual stage show, which is something that we have done several times before. We've done most of it in the past and we didn't think that we would shock anyone with it, because whoever was there knew about us already and knew what we were about. The problem is that Krakow is the birth town of the pope and that's probably what caused the trouble. <laughs> I'm not sure. But it was definitely blown out of proportion. It was this huge thing on the Internet and all sorts of stuff started coming out about how we were abusing animals and eating live animals on stage and whatnot.

CoC: The ironic thing about that is that Gaahl [vocalist] is a vegetarian, if I'm not mistaken.

TV: That's right and we only used off-cuts that we picked up in a butchery nearby. So it was nothing about abusing animals and whatever. People just like to talk.

CoC: And it all ended up making you more popular.

TV: Yeah, in the end it was a good thing for us. You mentioned London earlier, and I will say that we haven't actually played in London since I've been in the band, so it's difficult for me to judge what the response was like there relative to other shows. That was a successful tour for us in general, and the London show was one of the last dates that we played.

CoC: Given your background in black metal and your position in what arguably at the moment remains one of the genre's premier exponents, what are your thoughts on some of the black metal underground's emerging sub-genres -- and I'm thinking about things like NSBM in particular?

TV: Well, we aren't linked to Nazism at all, and the reason for that is simple: it's ideology for the flock. It's also birthed out of Christianity; it's something I'm totally against and I could never share any of those ideas. Most people in that scene aren't actually really serious about their ideology anyway, I think. They're screaming a bunch of slogans, but they don't really know what they're actually referring to. None of it comes from any sort of rational thought. It's a riot without a cause basically, and I don't think it's something that should be taken very seriously.

CoC: So looking at the other end of the spectrum and those black metal bands that have become more popular and more commercially acceptable, how do you feel about them?

TV: I don't want to talk about specific bands, but I have noticed that there are a lot of bands that are labelled as black metal these days and they're not. The only real black metal is founded on a Satanic foundation, and I don't think that there are that many bands left that are serious about this. I think that Gorgoroth are perhaps one of the last remaining bands that approach this in a serious, rational way and have a practical involvement in Satanism. It's not enough having a pagan or a humanist stance, being a misanthrope and not liking humans. Satanism is about a lot more: it's about considering your environment and your situation based on your personal experiences, and it's about the value that you attach to human beings. I don't believe in evil. I don't believe in good, either. I believe that you decide what's evil and what's good, and that creates a lot of conflict with the rest of the population. This stuff for me is about having a will to power and a will to succeed and excelling to your full potential, and in my experience when you're trying to achieve this, there are a lot of forces that will try to sabotage this. If a person tries to harm you or tries to sabotage you -- if they throw the first stone or they draw the first blood, then you have the right to punish by using violence. So that again is another value of mine that conflicts with Christian society. Don't get me wrong: I don't care about some random guy who sits in his house and believes in God either. He can do that if he wants, if it's not bothering me at some point. So it's a question of ethics and morals, and in the black metal genre today, I see a lot of bands who don't live by those morals. Bands are starting to concern themselves more with how popular they are, how many albums they've sold and what equipment they use on stage. Gorgoroth... we don't care about that. We're not rock stars. We're not going to tell people what liquor to drink or what their favourite colour should be. We don't speculate on what music is going to be popular -- we just make the music that we want to make that satisfies us. Whether people like it or not is up to them.

CoC: You mention all of that though and then you look at one of the other bands you play in like Sahg, whose new record is awesome, but ten years ago in the black metal scene you would have been ostracised if you'd done anything like that.

TV: Sahg is about music. It's not about Satanism. It's five guys making music that's inspired by bands from the Seventies like Pentagram and Black Sabbath and stuff like that. I don't express the same things in that band as I do in Gorgoroth. It's about playing bass in a Seventies style for me; we're definitely not representing ourselves as having something special to say in Sahg. I can certainly see how people would choose to react that way if they're fans of Gorgoroth, but doing both is natural for me and it's a way to express different sides to my personality.

CoC: How are your ongoing legal battles going to affect Gorgoroth's future?

TV: It's affecting the present more than anything, because Gaahl is in prison as we speak. He went to jail in April and he'll be out again closer to Christmas. So in 2006 we're not going to be doing any touring, but next year everyone will be out and we'll be doing a lot of shows again.

CoC: So how long before we see another Gorgoroth record?

TV: I seriously doubt you'll see another full-length before 2008. However, we're going to release a live album called _True Norwegian Black Metal_ sometime next year, and the material on that record was recorded toward the end of our European tour.

CoC: Will the live DVD you recorded in Poland ever see the light of day?

TV: Well, as you know we went to trial in Norway about that and the outcome was basically that we couldn't be held accountable for blasphemy because we didn't know of the laws in Poland concerning this matter. Metal Mind Productions never told us, so they are now being taken to court on the same charges and they risk six years in prison. So when this trial has taken place, we'll get the tapes back. For the time being, they're being held for evidence, and I guess we'll just have to see when we get them back.

CoC: Well, thanks very much for your time. Hopefully we won't have to wait too long until we hear from Gorgoroth again.

TV: Cool. Yeah, absolutely -- we'll definitely be back as soon as we can.

(article submitted 25/6/2006)

8/9/2008 J Smit 5 Gorgoroth - True Norwegian Black Metal
5/31/2006 J Smit 9 Gorgoroth - Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam
6/17/2003 J Smit 8 Gorgoroth - Twilight of the Idols
9/1/1998 A McKay 9 Gorgoroth - Destroyer (Or About How to Philosophize With a Hammer)
2/5/1998 S Hoeltzel 8.5 / 9 Gorgoroth - Under the Sign of Hell
Osculum Infame - Dor-Nu-Fauglith
8/12/1996 S Hoeltzel 9 Gorgoroth - Antichrist
12/7/2005 J Smit Gorgoroth / 1349 Twlight of the (Black Metal) Idols
3/5/2000 M Noll Morbid Angel / Gorgoroth / God Dethroned / Amon Amarth / Krisiun / Occult Formulas Fatal to Gorgoroth
10/1/1998 M Noll Einherjer / Old Man's Child / Gorgoroth / Cradle of Filth Doom Descends Upon Deutschland
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