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Interviews   

Fenriz (Darkthrone): the apostle of the old sound


It probably didn’t escape anyone: Darkthrone’s newest album, explicitly titled The Underground Resistance, is a statement – the demanding of recognition for traditional 80’s heavy metal. It’s also a fight for the preservation of production methods that used to end up in an “old sound”, where “instruments sounded like they were being played”.

Fenriz – Gylve Fenris Nagell on his passport – dwells on this subject in minute detail, with conviction and honesty, in the following interview. From there, we tried to explore the man’s personality and to get him to talk about his vision of superficiality, travels and humor.

The interview was conducted by e-mail, since Fenriz would rather answer questions in writing. Still, the man didn’t try to be evasive and took the time to answer conscientiously. The resulting interview helps understand Darkthrone’s philosophy and that of one of the band’s two masters. We chose to publish the interview as we received it, with certain words written in capital letters and the onomatopoeic laughter.

« It’s the main population who think underground means ‘haven’t had success’ and overground means ‘you make money and pull together with us to pay taxes’. »

Radio Metal: The albums The Cult Is Alive up to Circle The Wagons represented a shift in style for Darkthrone compared to its traditional black metal and had a more Venom kind of vibe, or even punk metal. Was this because you wanted to reappropriate yourself the origins of your own music?

Fenriz (drums, vocals): Nah, we’ve been inspired by all the various metal styles of the 80s all the time, it’s like with any guy, the metal collection is huge and growing and what you are most into shifts from time to time although one doesn’t ever only listen to just one style, so what we make kinda mirrors what we are more into, but it takes a helluvalot of more time to slowly reel into a style shift than changing LP on your player from first Dream Theater to first Righteous Pigs vinyl, no? So black metal that we did were mainly inspired by 1983 (Hellhammer and then Celtic Frost) to 88 (Bathory stuff from 84 till 88) and now we do a lot of heavy metal styles from the same era. Sounds different but influences are from the same era

The Underground Resistance distances itself from your previous four albums in the sense that, although still retaining the traditional aspect of heavy metal, it leans toward a more epic and sophisticated approach, close to Bathory and Celtic Frost. Was this a way for you to explore the evolution of traditional dark heavy metal from the 80’s?

Two of my songs are lighter and therefore more a risk and more ballsy for me to do than anything before, talking about valkyrie and THE ONES YOU LEFT BEHIND here, Ted is really doing the darker angrier stuff on this album, while I am also returning to the Celtic Frost 85 in the final song « Leave No Cross Unturned », I am also most noteably hailing the Agent Steel 85 style on the same song.

On The Underground Resistance we can hear some King Diamond kind of vocals. Like toward the beginning of « Leave No Cross Unturned ». Is this a clear influence for you?

That is ONE metal scream and it is EXTREMELY typical for 1980s metal like Agent Steel and really has nothing to do with King Diamond, as he uses his voice differently when doing his « light » vocals. The one scream is akin to early Queensrÿche, Crimson Glory, Agent Steel and countless others and is different. I first did that on the Dommedagssalme song of Isengard in 1992, so nothing shocking there.

Obviously you’re showing a desire to preserve the traditions in heavy metal but what we see as tradition is generally an evolution of something older and more traditional. So where do we put the limits of tradition? What do we call tradition and what don’t we call tradition?

Tradition is when the instruments sounded like the instruments being played, had a lot of that before the 80s « studio professors » started experimenting, largely with the bigger bands cuz it was expensive with that SHITTY experimentation too. Most veterans of credibility today does NOT ackowledge the typical 80s sound whether it’s in metal or jazz or pop, but want EVERYTHING BUT that sound, preferably 70s sound which is in most cases best for music.

But there were a heavy metal wave in the 80s meaning almost everyone and their mama played metal and the recording thereof were made in 70s studios with 70s sound, and that is great, so a lot of the metal and the underground metal recorded in the 80s still has a lot of 70s sound in it, and works great today. However, one can say that first Candlemass for instance is both 80s and 70s sounding, like a compromise, and it works well. Later Candlemass you can hear the 80s taking over completely almost. Therefore, AS WITH ALL THINGS, there are no definite line dividing traditional and modern, but common sense and experience leads to people like me getting questioned about it. For fun let us say that OPEN THE GATES album by MANILLA ROAD is by all means traditional while still from 85 and that release from agony by destruction a few years later has succumbed to the modern.

« I think we must’nt sound more « hi fi » than we do now. »

For almost all bands the underground is inevitable, at least at the beginning of their career, and it’s something they want to get away from as quickly as possible, whereas for Darkthrone, as the title of the album suggests, the underground is chosen as a resistance. Do you think all these bands that see the underground as a burden are in fact fooled by illusions?

Oh yes. Funniest things are all those bands that will never sell but still wanna be like Dimmu Borgir. They think they are underground just cuz they don’t sell hahahahaha but they WANT TO be overground hahahaha pathetic.

It’s the main population who think underground means « haven’t had success » and overground means « you make money and pull together with us to pay taxes ». The main population is not often of underground concern and all things that main population see as « success » started in the underground, was rejected or « stolen » from the underground.

Now gimme some phat organic beats up in here.

Do you think that the increase of polemics about what we call « loudness war » and the fact that the musical industry is going down tend to prove your point?

Musical industry is on the up, it’s book and film industry that struggle the most now.

What’s more troubling is that a lost generation of kids only has those white iPhone plugs instead of real headphones.

Although still keeping its natural aspect, Darkthrone’s sound hasn’t been as good and as clear in the past as on The Underground Resistance. Was there more attention given to the quality of the recording and production this time?

Jack mastered it and it helps, we have a primitive studio and can only add for instance reverb to the vocal and guitar solo tracks !! Jack probably eq’d in his own OLD METAL fashion, giving us reverb on the eq overall settings and organic bass punch. I think it sounds almost too good, got the vinyl test press yesterday, but that’s cuz we haven’t gone all retro with the guitar sound, as you know it has been cool for the last 8 years to have as organic fuzz as possible, little fuzz too, like only the fuzz from the guitar itself and the amp, not a lot of pedal. Well, we still don’t do that. Anyway when I listen to other people’s metal, I prefer it to sound outlandish and cultish, more like even more primitive production like WITCHES COVEN from Sweden for instance. I think we must’nt sound more « hi fi » than we do now, haha.

Recording ourselves it’s been babysteps ever since 2005 and THE CULT IS ALIVE album, but I think all of those had clearer sound than Transilvanian Hunger for instance, but you can’t compare that, THAT was a guitar-sounding-together-kinda album and now we play with a more rock base and freedom and not claustrophobic at all.

« I was presented with an old metal label’s comp CD of bands they had released, pretty much all of them wanting to sound like 1985 (style) but still 12 out of 16 had stronger elements of 1995 production? Why THE HELL?! Ridiculous, sounded shit too. »

I’ve once read you refereeing to “organic metal”. Do you actually see this as an actual genre?

Hell yeah, it’s any band playing old metal WITH OLD SOUND. When you compress and take the bass out of the bass drums, that’s not just a whim, that is not just one decision, that is based on HUNDREDS of decisions, wanting to sound like THAT pile of albums and not that OTHER PILE OF ALBUMS. A definitive divide, almost. And I am sceptical to the definitive, the 100%, as we all should be. Just last week I was presented with an old metal label’s comp CD of bands they had released, pretty much all of them wanting to sound like 1985 (style) but still 12 out of 16 had stronger elements of 1995 production? Why THE HELL?! Ridiculous, sounded shit too.

What are the elements and aspects of modern production that really sets you off?

Vocals drawn into the compressed sound, the clicky bass drum sound. That’s the worst. You can already hear it the way I first heard it, difference between Mercyful Fate and then the second King Diamond album and onwards. Soul begone, enter « perfection ».Tto me it sounds disgusting and my war started already there. The fact that we had to record our first album in modern style just enhances my war forever

Do you have in mind some albums that you would consider as masterpieces only if they hadn’t been scarred by over-production?

The ATTIC album with proper drum sound, like old Rush or even new Dead Lord would do the trick. I have many albums that I like that doesn’t sound completely right at all, many exceptions to the rule.

The album artwork depicts some ancient warriors fighting. Does this symbolize your own fight, your own resistance?

It’s just right for this album, the music on it. Deal with it, haha.

How does your resistance against superficiality translate in your everyday life?

Alot of these questions. Everyone has to be superficial on many levels. If not one would be like the absolute memory-problem. If you remembered everything you would never get past day one. With food I am insanely superficial, knowingly too as I chose it away for music a long time ago, there is no place for caring about both things for me.

I’ve read that you don’t travel and it seems that you find all you need just where you live. Many people see travels as an increase of intellectual wealth. Isn’t it your case?

No, they just like to travel and they are INTO that, I don’t find that interesting, just like my grandma-in-law doesnt find my music carreer interesting at all either. It’s not superficial, again it’s a matter of priority, I can’t LOOK INTO everything. I acknowledge travellers, I know many globetrotters, after all most musicians are. But intellectual? It’s intelectual to ponder the old question of one who travels constantly or the man who travels MOST – who has the biggest experience? It’s futile just to discuss it, as it’s a dilemma/quandry set up only for philosophy/discussion only with no definite answer. It’s a matter of outlook, and my outlook is that I live in the capital in the world with most forest around it so I got that covered, we have cultivated a music scene in Oslo that is topped only by that in Atlanta, Georgia, I think I read somewhere but anyway it’s insanely blossoming here considering we’re just half a million people, and now we open a bar where I am head of what music shall be played, it’s all coming together right here, trying to make something out of nothing in Oslo. And like with Darkthrone starting small in Kolbotn and still I will DJ at Kolbotn on the night of the bar opening in Oslo, three Kolbotn bands playing at Kolben in Kolbotn and then we all go in to the opening of the bar afterwards. Why the fuck would I wanna go to Paris? Ahaha.

« Why would you wanna go to a pub and meet someone you expect to live in a cave? It’s dumb on a level boarding the fantastic. »

Does Nocturno Culto share your way of living and thinking or is this actually sometime subject of tensions, like the fact that Darkthrone doesn’t play live?

You gotta ask him. We’re way different and he moved away from Oslo and Kolbotn already in 92 so you do the math.

The Underground Resistance features three songs by Nocturno Culto and three by you. Was it important to share the album equally between you two?

We did that always it feels, after the recording session of A Blaze In The Northern Sky in Summer 1991 I decided they all understood the black metal completely and said: « From now on we make songs on our own ». Since then the only song Ted and me co-wrote was « The God Of Disturbance And Friction » (in like 97) and « Rawness Obsolete » in 1994, both by coincidence with hurrying as a backdrop haha. And we shared the albums since THE CULT IS ALIVE in 2005 but we already did that the first time with TOTAL DEATH in 1996.

We can witness from time to time a sense of humour in Darkthrone directly inherited from bands like Venom. This clearly goes against the image that people generally have of black metal bands and fans never smiling or joking. Do you think that some black metal bands are taking themselves too seriously?

No, maybe, yes. Satanist should be a brilliant man, being a sad bore git is certainly not something to be proud of. That doesnt mean the music/art of black metal should be funny. You wanna hang with a jeweller that is fun and great to be around, but we all know when he makes his jewellry, he doesnt have to write jokes on his crafts or smileyfaces.

Have you already been confronted to people who where disappointed by the fact that you had a sense of humour while they were expecting you to be grim?

Yeah, dolts came from all around the world to (get this) ELM STREET ROCK CAFE and expected me to sit there and be grim. Now think about that concept. Why would you wanna go to a pub and meet someone you expect to live in a cave? It’s dumb on a level boarding the fantastic. But that kind of mentality actually made me grim ON THEM which was also not to their liking. Ultimately what I just told here is both a fact AND very funny.

What is actually your relation to black metal today?

I had a horn in the side of it ever since 93 and 94. Today has more great AND more shit band at that time, but up to 1992 there were actually NO shit black metal bands and ALL recordings had old sound. It lost it when the idiots started coming to the party. I just keep listening to the 80s styles or new bands playing old styles or just whatever music I like to listen to, but metal is something that I care a LOT about so I’m not about to just take anything in – I am the gateway of old sound appreciation

Interview conducted by e-mail in February 2013

Darkthrone’s official website: www.darkthrone.no

Album The Underground Resistance, out since February 25th 2013 via Peaceville Records



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