To Ride a Northwind Storm
CoC chats with Abbath of I
by: Jackie Smit
It's 1995, and I'm a fifteen year-old in the throes of adolescent "sturm und drang", made worse by the fact that I'm growing up in a city where fifty punters at a metal gig constitutes a hefty turnout. I spend my days thumbing through worn-out Nuclear Blast catalogues, deciphering the German descriptions as best I can to discover new bands that will delight my growing passion for all things extreme, whilst acting as yet another call to prayer for my ultra- conservative fellow scholars at Bloemfontein's Jim Fouche High School. Given that my hard-earned pocket money only stretches so far, I -- like most others I consort with -- also indulge in a fair bit of tape trading, and having already uncovered such treasures as Brutal Truth and King Diamond by perusing any supposedly blank tape handed to me a fellow trader, I'm leaving nothing to chance as I slip a visibly worn C-90 into my cassette player one dull afternoon.

What I experience next can only be described as a violent epiphany. Drums playing at speeds that eclipse virtually anything to cross my path thus far, buzzing guitars and unhinged, shrieking vocals that hint at the likes of Cradle of Filth and Dissection (my two major brushes with black metal up to this point) but are simply too ferocious and crass to have been spawned by either. In the back of my mind, I recall an article I had read a few months earlier about a record called _Battles in the North_, which is supposedly the hot ticket for the year's best album -- and then, almost as though by instinct, it clicks in: I've just had my first taste of Immortal. My first of many.

So, as to the question then whether it's a big deal for me to be sitting down with the band's commander-in-chief Abbath Doom Occulta, the answer could only be: "You're damn skippy." In the main, I may be talking to the grizzled frontman about his new band I, and their rather promising debut _Between Two Worlds_, rather than anything Immortal-related. But despite his tenuous grasp of the English language, Abbath is every bit the sincere artist I imagined him being, as we start the conversation at the only really logical starting point there could be at this stage.

CoC: You had hinted right around the time that Immortal initially announced their break-up that you were going to make more music, but what in particular inspired you to go down the direction that you did with _Between Two Worlds_?

Abbath: It just came naturally. I started working on some of these riffs and arrangements back when I was working on material for Immortal, but at the time I felt that I couldn't use them, so I put them all to one side and picked them up again when I started working on songs for my solo project, which turned into I. I had a lot of ideas and riffs and recordings, but I didn't have a band, and so Arve [Isdal] from Enslaved helped me with pre-production and we worked like that for a while. Then Demonaz came in and helped me with lyrics. We got Armagedda (the first Immortal drummer) to come in and do the drums, and then King [Gorgoroth] joined us as well. I was lucky to get such a good band put together.

CoC: I meant to ask you about your bandmembers, actually: were these guys all hand-picked or did it come together naturally?

A: Pretty natural. They were around and they fit in, is basically how it happened. <laughs>

CoC: Did they have any part in developing the material?

A: Arve helped me with some of the arrangements and he helped with some of the guitar leads. I did the drumming parts myself, but when Armagedda took over he put his own feel to it. Same thing with the bass parts; I taught the stuff that I had written to King and he put his signature on it.

CoC: Why did this material -– your solo material -– never see the light of day while you were in Immortal?

A: I would never have worked in Immortal, because a lot of it was rock 'n' roll riffs and so on. It just wouldn't have suited the Immortal concept. Also, while I was in Immortal I didn't want to do any other projects; I wanted to keep my focus purely on Immortal.

CoC: Did that make you feel restricted in any way, particularly toward the end of Immortal?

A: Maybe a little bit, but when Immortal took a break it was for several reasons and we all agreed on it. I'm glad we did. It was very refreshing to have this break and to be able to relax and not be on the road all the time, working. It was a very good choice for us, I think.

CoC: You were used to a certain kind of environment with Immortal and working in a certain way. Surrounding yourself with new players and a new band, what were the biggest differences for you in recording _Between Two Worlds_?

A: We recorded this album in Bergen and there was absolutely no stress during that time at all. I went in and did the backup guitars for Armagedda. He came and did his thing after I went home. Same with the other guys. We worked very separately, and we never felt like we needed to be around the studio because we've all been doing this for a while and we know what we're doing. So, the whole process was great –- absolutely no stress about it. Writing the album was just as easy. Nothing was rushed at all.

CoC: Given how passionate people are about Immortal, were you conscious of the level of expectation that would inevitably tack itself on to the album?

A: Expectation from the fans... well, not really. If they don't like it, then they don't like it. They don't have to listen to it. I make music for myself and I make music that makes me happy. If people like it, they're free to listen to it. Not for free though. <laughs>

CoC: Your live debut was at Hole in the Sky, and all reports indicate that you tore the house down. Were you surprised by how well people received the new band?

A: Yeah, definitely, and I'll tell you what -– we could have put on a much better show if we were more prepared. I also had an infection in my shoulder tendons, so after three songs I was just in agony.

CoC: I imagine the crowd just thought you were pulling a metal face.

A: <laughs> Yeah, definitely. The show was hard work, but people loved it. We could have done way better if we had a proper sound check, but it was a festival, so that's how it goes.

CoC: With Demonaz writing the lyrics on the new album, there are a lot of themes that are continued on from the Immortal records.

A: It's his signature, but I think he's writing in a more open way.

CoC: So, did you feel that there was a danger that people might just write off I as a extension of Immortal rather than a new band?

A: Or an intermission band, maybe?

CoC: Absolutely.

A: I don't know. I don't care what people think. If they want to hate us, then they can hate us. We just do what we feel is right at the time, and I think that it's good to do something different and to show maybe a slightly different side to myself. We definitely won't do a pop album.

CoC: Coming back to what you said earlier about Immortal being your main focus and you not wanting to distract yourself with side-projects while you were doing it: now that Immortal is back together and _Between Two Worlds_ is coming out as well, what has changed your mindset regarding that statement?

A: Well, with Immortal we decided that we would get back together and do a couple of shows next year and do a live DVD, and then we'll take it from there. Maybe we'll do another album, maybe not; we'll just see how we feel. We will definitely be doing more I stuff, that's for sure.

CoC: So, the inevitable question then: at what point did the Immortal reunion become a reality?

A: Six months ago.

CoC: What made you decide that it needed to happen?

A: A talk over a beer. We hadn't seen each other for a while and we decided that we'd do the shows and the DVD; it would be good for the fans and it would be good for us, because it would allow us to either have closure on the whole thing or come to the end of those shows and feel inspired enough to want to continue. If Immortal does continue, it will be not be half-hearted.

CoC: Personally, I'll happily admit to being a massive fan of Immortal, but I have to say that I was slightly surprised by just how passionately people reacted at the announcement of you breaking up the first time.

A: It was surprising to me too. I know that we have a lot of fans out there, but when it came to the decision to break up, we couldn't think about them in the first instance. For me, Immortal is my baby, and if I can't take care of myself, I can't take care of my baby; and I needed to take care of myself and slow the fuck down a bit and take a break. It doesn't have to kill your band and it doesn't hurt to slow down. Me as a person is more important than a band, and I was getting to the point where I was unable to function. That was causing a lot of internal problems, and quite honestly, that happens in a lot of bands. They burn themselves out and that kills the whole band to where it just never has the chance to recover. So when we broke up we always felt like we'd give ourselves time to recover and then decide if we still wanted to do it.

CoC: In terms of the members making up the reformed Immortal, will guys like Saroth and Iscariah be part of it?

A: No. It will be Apollyon from Aura Noir on bass and Horgh on drums and myself. Immortal is a three-piece thing.

CoC: Musically, if you do another Immortal album, what do you expect will be the style?

A: Well, if we do another record it will be going back to some of the older material and starting from there.

CoC: So more brutal and aggressive then?

A: Exactly.

CoC: Getting back to I and the new album. Looking back at the black metal scene around the mid-Nineties when you had just brought out _Pure Holocaust_ or even _Battles in the North_, do you feel that you would have taken more criticism had you brought out a record like this then?

A: I probably would have, but if I had felt like doing it back then, I would have. You can't think what others are going to think. There's always someone you'll disappoint. I have to follow my heart.

CoC: So what are the plans for I now? Are you going to be touring the new record?

A: Well, we're doing the Immortal thing first. When we're done with that, then we'll see. Maybe we'll do another album with I before we do a tour, but the plan is definitely not for us to go away after this.

CoC: OK, so final two questions, and these are matters of opinion more than anything else. First, Manowar's Joey DeMaio once said of Immortal: "Those guys are true metal." How do you feel about that?

A: That's cool to hear from a metal king. <laughs> Joey DeMaio is cool. I'm a big fan of his stuff and he was one of my heroes when I was a kid. I loved Manowar before I ever heard Bathory, so that's really cool to hear.

CoC: So, the next question then. Glen Benton was recently quoted as saying that black metal to him is like power metal with face-paint. Your thoughts?

A: <laughs> I read that too. I don't know. When Immortal was touring with Deicide, we all got on really well, and in some of the interviews since he's always said really good things about us. So I'm not sure if he's referring to us. We're definitely not a power metal band.

CoC: Anything else you'd like to add?

A: If you're a fan, be patient. <laughs>

(article submitted 14/10/2006)

10/5/2006 J Smit 7.5 I - Between Two Worlds
1/10/2001 A Cantwell 6 i - One Word
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