Entering an Age of Antiquity
CoC interviews Quorthon of Bathory
by: Adam Wasylyk
It's been a lengthy wait for Bathory's brand new studio album -- about six years, in fact, not including the re-worked _Blood on Ice_ opus. _Destroyer of Worlds_ [reviewed in this issue] is a mix of sounds and styles from the past ten years (give or take), from epic-sounding atmospherics to thrash-tinged moments. Those who felt that _Octagon_ and _Requiem_ were disappointments and the Viking / epic metal era was their shining moment in time will find partial solace in the new Bathory release. However, those who appreciate the aggressive thrash tendencies of Bathory will find individual tracks worthy of hearing. One's individual tastes will play a significant role in potential enjoyment of _Destroyer of Worlds_. A lengthy chat with Quorthon took place shortly before I had the chance to hear the record for myself, so many specific questions about the album had to be omitted for obvious reasons. What turned out to be a more retrospective chat than anything else, I found Quorthon to be his usual self -- soft-spoken, polite and articulate at times. After a preface discussion on hockey, centering around the Swedish player Mats Sundin -- who incidentally plays on the Toronto Maple Leafs -- our interview began.

CoC: So what song did you record today? Has it been titled?

Quorthon: Well, the chorus goes "Black death, pestilence", so we haven't quite decided yet. It's like when we recorded _Requiem_, we actually printed the album cover out before we were 100% sure on the titles of the tracks. So we haven't entirely decided on the exact title as of yet.

CoC: It's needless to say that Bathory fans are wondering what the new material will sound like. Would it be a mix of styles covered throughout the career of Bathory, or an extension of the last Bathory studio album _Octagon_? Perhaps you could describe the aura of _Destroyer of Worlds_ as you're writing and recording the new material.

Q: It'll contain one piece of each sound and style we've gone through. Eighteen years down the line, you're bound to have learned something about the studio shit. But each time I go down to the studio these days, there are all of these technological revolutions since the last time I was there. Now when we're recording, everything is basically done through a computer, and I can't even fucking surf [the Internet]! Not that I'm non-technical, but all of this computer language... it's not my thing. It's different than the early Eighties, when you'd stand in your garage with a small 20-watt Marshall and you'd record, making sure your neighbour's lawnmower wouldn't end up on tape. Today it's very clean; it's very technical. Being down in the studio today is different, but hopefully it'll turn out like the old Bathory but with a new sound. I'm reluctant to say it'll be more intelligent as well, because that would be like saying we were stupid in the old days. But back then we would record albums and wouldn't care if a solo was played wrong, or my voice would break up. These days CDs are more expensive, so you want a quality piece to release. Not like "Ah, it's Bathory, just put it out. We don't care much about production or anything." _Destroyer of Worlds_ sounds basically like the lost compilation album. One track sounds like it came off _Hammerheart_, another sounds like it was recorded during the _Twilight..._ sessions. A couple of songs will remind you of _The Return..._, so you have everything. It's difficult to please all of your fans, but hopefully they will have at least half of the record pleasing them.

CoC: Tell me about your vocal approach to the album.

Q: Actually, I never rehearse my vocals. We don't have a rehearsal space, so we just go to the studio and try it out. About 95% of all of the Bathory songs, at least in the last ten years, goes in B [as in B note? -- Adam]. I've never been able to figure out if that's too low or too high for me, so I just scream and wait until blood fills in my mouth and I get a headache. I would just stand there and scream.

CoC: As some of the lyrics deal with topics like war and death, are there any underlying concepts or themes that tie the tracks together on _Destroyer of Worlds_? Or do the tracks co-exist on their own?

Q: No, I wouldn't say there's a particular theme. The whole idea behind the title _Destroyer of Worlds_ deals with Oppenheimer, who while standing in the Nevada Desert saw the mushroom cloud from the first atomic explosion, remembered a quote from a Hindu script. "I have become death... I have become a destroyer of worlds." The title track is about Enola Gay, dropping the bomb on Hiroshima. And having spent so much time in Berlin, because Black Mark used to be Berlin-based, although it's always been a Swedish label, I could vaguely imagine Berlin in rubble. One track is called "Death From Above", which is about the air force of Berlin. There's another track dedicated to the 109 Fighter, so there's a lot of air warfare on the new album, but there are no themes to connect the songs.

CoC: Fans have always found an attractive quality in the mysteriousness of the Bathory image. Was that something that was practised and purposeful, or something that just came into being?

Q: I remember up until '86/'87, during the time when I was actually trying out a tonne of bassists and drummers, I found Sweden to be not such a good place to form a band like Bathory. First, you have Europe that sets the standard for what a metal band was supposed to look like, to get up on stage and get a record deal. So then people would come down to the rehearsal place and say "If I have to play this song, or do what you're telling me to do, I'll sweat and won't be able to get laid afterwards." So we wouldn't release any pictures, and for all of the interviews to fanzines would be my pictures. And that came out of a necessity of contact with our small fanbase in those days. The whole anonymity and mysteriousness just came out of it, and we realized that some people were attracted to the mysteriousness. Then there was all of this talk of a one-man band. Of course I played 80% of the bass on _The Return..._, I played 50% of the bass on _Under the Sign..._, I played all of the bass on _Hammerheart_ and _Twilight..._ and stuff like that, but there's never been a one-man band situation. But then we realized that every time people had to make a comment about Bathory in magazines, they always had to print a picture [of just me]. But we didn't do much to dispel the rumour. We're a project. We're two guys having fun in the studio once in a while. We don't feel the pressure of trying to make people believe that there's a band behind the Bathory name. So for the mysteriousness, we just kept our mouths shut. And since then I've realized that people have more problems with my image than I do. People think I'm living in a bat cave in Sweden, eating babies and drinking blood. That's one of the more stupid rumours. I've heard some more serious rumours as well. They're great as long as there's a little tongue in cheek in them. And about 50% of the time, I won't do anything to kill those rumours.

CoC: What other rumours have you heard over the years?

Q: All kinds of things. I'm going through town dressed as an SS Officer on a Harley Davidson. Hmmm... there's just about everything. <loud sigh> And from all that, you have fans send you the stupidest things. I've had people send me their kid sister's decapitated cats. Particularly during the mid-'80s, the Bathory fans in America -- who were twice as many as our European fans -- I would have girls send me their pictures naked, covered in nothing but pig's blood. One girl would send me a plastic bag containing earth. I had to read her letter to understand why she had sent this. She said: "I went to this graveyard under a full moon, I masturbated, and I figured that this earth would be great for your magical ceremonies." You start to wonder, "Man. I'm just a hockey-loving, Harley Davidson-riding, long-haired hard rocker. And that's all."

CoC: Fans usually always take an image too seriously.

Q: One night I was out with this girl, and I was on the subway. There were these three or four teenage guys dressed up in black leather coats, black boots, spikes, black leather pants and Bathory T-shirts. Their faces were as pale as sheets, with long black hair. They just looked at me and went, "UGGH! Quorthon!" How do I explain that to a girl who doesn't even know I can play guitar? At least 80% of my friends don't even know I can handle a guitar. Whenever something like that happens, when business creeps into your private life, that's when it aches. It's difficult to handle. I don't want any part of that. That's another reason why we don't photos. I communicate to those who enjoy my records through the music alone. But they want this guy dressed up in black leather underwear and spikes and blood all over the place like some of pictures from the early '80s or something.

CoC: I heard that an ex-Bathory drummer now directs music videos, with recent work including Madonna and Metallica. True?

Q: That's Jonas. Yeah, he was the first drummer of Bathory.

CoC: I also heard that he's semi-interested in making a Bathory video one day.

Q: Well, he didn't tell me about making a Bathory video. I bumped into him some time ago. The one thing he told me was after he had done some shots one day with Metallica for their video, the Metallica guys were in the studio playing some Bathory songs and were asking him for autographs and asking him if he could ask me for an autograph. I don't know of any of that is true, but in order for him to get any more jobs over there he wouldn't be saying stuff like that if it weren't true.

CoC: How do you look back at your self-titled project, which saw a couple of releases in recent years? Will future releases under the Quorthon name be realized?

Q: After _Twilight..._ I wanted to take a one-year sabbatical from music, and get on my Harley and ride around Europe or the States. The record label sorta freaked out and said "Hey, you guys stay active or you're going to find out that there's more things to life than being locked up in the studio." They told me to take what I needed -- a guitar, a bass and a drum machine -- to go into the studio for a week and a half and record whatever shit I wanted, to see if anything turns out worth putting out on a solo record. That sounded very challenging, because having being tied to a band like Bathory for a decade or so [at the time], all of the sudden you find yourself wanting to answer the question "Who the hell am I? What do I sound like when writing something that doesn't have to fall under the Bathory umbrella either sound or style-wise?" I grew up listening to the Beatles and Sex Pistols, so I figured, why not go in with my musical roots and go in there and freak out for a week and a half with no ambitions or expectations? And the nature of the critic is that if someone did buy that CD, and if they thought it sucked, they wouldn't write a letter saying so. When you go see a movie, you don't write a letter to the director to say the movie is shit. You just don't recommend it to a friend. But if you do see a good movie, you recommend it. For those who enjoyed the first record, they wrote to me and said "This one took me by surprise", so they are the ones who asked for a second one. But 95% of the reactions were confused. I was very happy that I didn't receive any downright awful criticism like "Stop milking the legend" or "Call it quits" or "Produce a real Bathory album". I probably won't release any other material under the Quorthon name, though. The second one would never had happened if it hadn't been for 3000 people writing to me asking for a second one. And I emptied my testicles at the time, since it was a double CD with 23 tracks. I sort of made a point -- not everybody gets to make a record. Not everybody gets to make twelve records. Not everybody gets to make three solo CDs. If you can do it, why not try?

CoC: When was the bulk of the new album written and composed? Had ideas for the new album been gathering for weeks, or months?

Q: Hmm... that's a good question. Actually, I wrote about a dozen tracks and went into the studio, and I did so not to hear what the songs would sound like, but rather what the studio sounds like. I then went home and into my basement, where I wrote a couple of more songs. The sound and atmosphere of the studio is very important. Sometimes you realize a song is really going to suck no matter how you record it. When you get a feeling for the studio, you can see how a style could fit a studio perfectly. <Quorthon takes another moment to compute in his head> I've written a total of 28 songs since the beginning of the year, in which I scrapped all of them except for one. And in the past month the majority of the album was written.

CoC: So does studio work, after almost fifteen years, still excite and thrill you? Is it what you consider the true Bathory environment?

Q: If Bathory had promotional tours, live concerts, groupies and drugs and whatever, I wouldn't be in this business at all. All of this work is for the studio. I mean, Bathory is a studio project and has been so since 1986. The studio is a happy place. It's a place where you can walk around in your underwear, eat peanuts and watch a video. At least 80% of the time when we're in the studio we're laughing and not recording! Some of the greatest jokes and some of the funniest moments I've had in my life were in the studio. Then at the end of the day we'll go "Uh, should we record something today?" "Okay, let's record a guitar or something", and the rest of the day we'll spend laughing.

(article submitted 14/1/2002)

7/16/2004 M Noll Bathory: KICKING*ASS in '85 - Quorthon RIP
2/13/1999 A Wasylyk Bathory: The Countess' Favorite Band Lives on
11/8/1995 A Bromley Bathory: Bathory
9/21/2003 Q Kalis 5 Bathory - Nordland II
5/29/2003 Q Kalis 6 Bathory - Nordland I
1/14/2002 V Eldefors 7.5 Bathory - Destroyer of Worlds
6/9/1996 A Wasylyk 9 Bathory - Blood on Ice
10/1/1995 G Filicetti 8 Bathory - Octagon
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