Dear readers, please excuse me for a moment while I gush like a complete fanboy. DARKTHRONE is my favorite metal band. Ever. When the PR firm representing Peaceville Records in the USA offered me an e-mail interview with drummer/vocalist/black metal godfather/walking metal & hard rock encyclopedia FENRIZ, I could barely contain my excitement. The following interrogation is what transpired when I was given the opportunity to pique Fenriz’s brain about the excellent new Darkthrone album CIRCLE THE WAGONS , the resurgence of “real” heavy metal in the underground and the importance of making your own breakfast.
THKD: Tell us about the new album, Circle the Wagons. What do you consider to be the main themes/concepts behind the album? How would you describe the album to those who have not yet heard it?
Fenriz: it’s our own kind of heavy metal, it’s Ted’s 4 songs and i never know what influences him. then there’s my 5 songs which mostly sounds like fast heavy metal (speed metal) from 1979-1985. then there’s clear and various ugly vocals and i just realized this didn’t come out very good as an advertisement for our sound – but no one really sounds like us at the moment, i think we are extremely old school and still fresh.
there are no themes, lyrics are about a plethora of subjects, ranging from street lyrics to the soulful stuff (like Black Mountain Totem song).
THKD: You recorded Circle the Wagons at your own Necrohell Studios. What are the advantages of having your own recording space? What is the equipment setup at Necrohell?
Fenriz: i am not a musician, i’m a music personality, so i don’t know anything about equipment, that’s Ted’s department. it’s a portable mini studio and we rig it ourselves and Ted records and mixes it as well – so it’s VERY DIY.DIY HARD!!! haha!! Advantages is that we don’t have the presence of a “studio guy”, we are just by ourselves with the help of our friends Kjella and Mats. It’s Kjellas house, so Ted has to drive 3 hours from the north to get there and i take the bus for 3 hours from the south. Having this studio makes us get our own sound, it’s a guarantee that we don’t end up in a studio where there are modern equipment or some guy that tries to talk us into some new tricks. we keep it old. WITH US, THE OLD WAYS ARE NEAR.
THKD: One of the standout tracks on Circle the Wagons is “I am the Graves of the 80s”. What are some of your favorite memories from that time period that inspired the song?
Fenriz: i still live in the 80s. i do. and i’m proud of it! so to me the 80s – it’s not memories, it’s reality. the song stops with mentioning of two titles from the 80s, one from the 1st Coroner album, one from 3rd Destruction album. i have even tattooed the coroner title (reborn through hate). the music in the song is inspired (as i wrote in the liner notes) by various bands like Misfits, first Metallica, Deathside (japan 87-90), Puke (swedish 85 punk) and the vocals are just as usual what i NEED to sing, i guess i’m very holistic when it comes to vocals.
THKD: Besides just the song “I am the Working Class”, the whole album has a gritty, blue collar feeling. Is this a reflection of your lifestyle or upbringing?
Fenriz: HAHA! one of the best questions i’ve had this time ’round (and i did over 60 interviews for this album already). i guess being so stubborn, we refused to live off this life project called darkthrone but chose day jobs instead so we don’t have to whore out Darkthrone..i guess this attitude can lead to some self righteousness on our part, but we feel we earned a ibt of judgementaLITY, haha! fighting for the old style when the whole overground with mags and journos and the WHOLE studio world is pretty much into the polished sound since 1988 and we represent the demo sound of the 80s….it means we also continously in some way have our backs against the walls and we bite and fight back while on the other hand we are part of a FREE AS THE WIND underground scene. now maybe the next album a random journalist have to hear is a new modern metal sounding thing while what i am listening to while i do this is the reh demo from Slovenian TRIFORGO. that marks us all, haha.
but yeah, in the forest life i always have to clean up after others.every camp looks better after i’ve been there for a night than when i arrive, i can make a difference. i also do it where i live, someone throws trash, i pick it up. you see where i am and how i think just from that point alone, yeah?
THKD: Over the past four albums, Darkthrone’s style and sound have changed considerably. Is this a conscious progression/regression, or merely a natural evolution of the Darkthrone sound? Is Circle the Wagons the culmination of this stylistic shift?
Fenriz: we always changed, only 2 albums that were very the same was ravishing grimness and plaguewielder from 99 and 01.
i don’t think Circle the Wagons is a paradigm shift at all, as we don’t work in ALBUM mode at all since 2005, when we have a song ready each we set up studio time and record them. so for us it’s EXTREMELY NATURAL pro/regression, and it’s song by song, not album by album. and always jumping back and forth. like my next song could maybe have been on an album 3 years ago, and next song on an album 3 years in the future. what happens happens and we change when we change, it’s no game plan – we proudly let coincidences rule. But there seems to be some agreement that we are doing old heavy metal in various ways now. like Circle the Wagons has NO black metal at all and only one song has double bass drums – it’s a VERY anti-90s album. we are born in 71 and 72 and grew up with the music from late 60s, the 70s and 80s and that’s where we’ll always be – but it would be interesting to record with typical rockabilly 50s sound too.
THKD: It is my understanding that you and Nocturno Culto write your songs separately. Have you ever considered collaborating? Why do you prefer to write by yourselves?
Fenriz: we collaborated in late 1988, all of 89 and 1990 and first half of 1991. then after the recording of A BLAZE IN THE NORTHERN SKY in summer of 1991 that we stop playing live AND started writing songs on our own and no song would be rejected or even questioned. a 3 headed dictatorship at the time, which became a 2 headed dictatorship when Ivar left. asking why after 19 years will only retrieve a far fetched answer as i know no other way now, ofcourse we like to work alone, it’s like making breakfast, one doesn’t want to collaborate on that, one makes his own breakfast. period.
THKD: Let’s talk about your drumming style. How do you think your technique has evolved along with Darkthrone’s stylistic changes over the years? Who are your main influences as a drummer?
Fenriz: i don’t know of any other drummer that deliberately decided to UN-LEARN drums. i am not very interested in drummers, i quit playing drums with ambition in 1993. i don’t like playing drums and i ONLY play drums when we rehearse the song and after playing throug the song once we start to record. so i play drums maybe 10 hours a year. and didn’t play anymore than that the last ten years and that’s a fact. i prefer bass and vocals, but i also do not rehearse those instruments, i get a hellova lot of NERVE out of not practicing, i’m walking on thin ice and i crave it!! also, my songs are not rocket science, after i started SONGWRITING and not just riffs thrown together i have more balanced songs, very effective mostly. my fave drummers from a darkthrone perspective is no secret, they are mentioned on our myspace page (also home of BAND OF THE WEEK blog!). but i play what the songs need, i don’t play after any other drummer.
THKD: For the last couple Darkthrone albums, you’ve written extensive liner notes. What prompted you to start doing this?
Fenriz: good question again, but strange – isn’t it normal to want to communicate your life’s work? well, i didn’t care about the visual side of things from 96 till 2006, but when i got back into that bit again, there was a clear difference, yeah? from FUCK OFF AND DIE album and up to now i’ve been in charge of cover stuff (except the special edition cd’s, i have NOTHING to do with that layout) and then i want a whole package, like a mini-fanzine of sorts. i work on and off for like half a year doing all that stuff.
but writing something about each song…it was a typical thing from the crust d-beat scene, lyrics could be very short with a long commentary on what they were about. i decided to elaborate that into explaining various stuff like i would do on a spoken commentary track that often follows dvd’s. anyway it’s one way communication, which i’ve really loved to do ever since i was a kid.
THKD: You’ve incorporated a lot punk influence into the Darkthrone sound over the past few albums. What do you believe to be the common ground between punk rock and heavy metal?
Fenriz: 80s metal stems from heavy blues based rock, prog rock and punk. as simple as that. overwhelming FACT.
THKD: One band that keeps popping up in my mind when I listen to Circle the Wagons is Manilla Road. Were they at all an influence on the new album or am I way off the mark?
Fenriz: you know, i never reached for that. but many say my vocal break like mark shelton’s, maybe they have a point. i’ve loved manilla road for nearly 25 years and i even mentioned them in a refrain on some albums ago (RAISED ON ROCK “i sold my soul to manilla road”), but i believe i NEVER made one riff that has any resemblance to manilla road. however if other people think so, it’s GREAT and FANTASTIC, i’m thrilled but also baffled every time someone mentions the “manilla road influence”, haha!! i will give you a useful list here:
OUR MUSIC FITS MORE IN WITH CURRENT BANDS LIKE THESE NOW, PERHAPS.and by CURRENT, i mean 90s, 00s, 10s. the 60s 70s 80s list will be listed at the bottom here.
GEHENNAH sweden – METALUCIFER – BLIZZARD germany – THE LORD WEIRD SLOUGH FEG – WOLF – ALPHA CENTAURI – METAL INQUISITOR – PORTRAIT – IN SOLITUDE – HELVETETS PORT – SPEED TRAP – ATLANTEAN KODEX – CHRISTIAN MISTRESS – DEMONS GATE – DOOMED BEAST – SONIC RITUAL – AURA NOIR – HARBINGER – ENFORCER – BLACKHOLICUS – NATUR – HIGH SPIRITS – WHIP STRIKER – NOIA italy – OLD – ARIA/APUR – TRENCH HELL – SHACKLES, ZÖLDÏER NOÏZ, NOIA, BUNKER 66, WASTELANDER, BLACK MAGIC ———————————CRYSTAL VIPER – LONEWOLF – RÉSISTANCE – GHOST – SATINBLACK – IRON KOBRA – ARGUS -FUNERAL CIRCLE etc
THE OLD BANDS, mainly 70s 80s that we may or may not be influenced by; MOTORHEAD, DIAMOND HEAD, HEAD HEAD HEAD (JUST KIDDING!), 1ST METAL CHURCH, AGENT STEEL 84-86, MANILLA ROAD, FINGERNAILS ’88, FATES WARNING 2ND AND 3RD, ANTHRAX 83-85, ACCEPT up to ’83, SAVAGE GRACE master of disguise, GRIFFIN protectors of the lair, ENGLISH DOGS, METALLICA 3 first, SATAN court in the act, JAGUAR power games, early SAXON, OZZY ’80-’86, HELLOWEEN 2 first, IRON MAIDEN, TRÖJAN, BLACK SABBATH ’70-’82, EXCITER heavy metal maniac, QUEENSRYCHE first EP and THE WARNING, GOTHAM CITY, WITCH CROSS, MERCYFUL FATE, THOR, HEAVY LOAD, ADX, HOLY TERROR, OVERKILL, TYRANT’S REIGN, BROCAS HELM, CIRITH UNGOL, ANGEL WITCH, WITCHFINDER GENERAL, CELTIC FROST, BATHORY, OSTROGOTH, TANK, SCORPIONS 70S, URIAH HEEP, RUSH, PENTAGRAM usa,BARON ROJO, TRUST, SAMSON, AC/DC, KISS, FLOTSAM AND JETSAM doomsday for the deceiver, OMEN ’84-’86, DEAF/DEATH DEALER 1st, DEATHSIDE, ASTA KASK, PUKE
THKD: It is a well known fact by now that Darkthrone does not tour or play shows. Do you still get offers when a new album rolls around?
Fenriz: constantly. it’s the question i’ve gotten the most times, several times a week STILL. it’s become a humour of it’s own, that.
Fenriz: oh, in mags like MORBID TALES canada or THRASH ATTACK germany i could see this artist that had a knack for drawing a bit like Robert Crumb, he made single frame comic boxes about darkthrone, motorhead or king diamond. so i knew that he UNDERSTOOD. then Peaceville came up with the idea of having some cartoons to promote the album, but the artist they suggested would maybe not be right for darkthrone, so i thought about it for a while and said YES, but I WILL CHOOSE THE ARTIST. then i got in touch with Annick (morbid tales mag) and asked if she could get me in touch with the artist. then Nagawika was contacted and a few ideas were thrown around. HOWEVER Nagawikas ideas were superior to my own or anybody elses, and we quickly just let him do his thing! VOILA!!! i’m proud not only by his skills but how he understands darkthrone!!!
THKD: On the Darkthrone myspace page you spotlight “bands of the week”. What are your current metal recommendations for our readers?
Fenriz: thank you for paying attention and supporting REAL metal!! well, since all the bands can be backtracked on our blog, i will recommend some bands i don’t think had any myspace page the last time i checked, GASMASK TERROR france, CHRISTIAN MISTRESS usa, HELLREALM usa, TEITANBLOOD spain! and now i changed cd to UNBORN from brazil, cool old bolt thrower etc style band.
THKD: Conversely, are there any bands out there you absolutely cannot stand? Any bands that epitomize false metal?
Fenriz: most of the bands on those FREE CD’s that follows the glossy mags. the modern metal with almost always modern studio metal sound. i can’t even listen to it, it makes me angrier than i am (and i’m born angry!) and depressed.
THKD: To what do you attribute the resurgence of “real metal” in the underground? Did it ever really go away?
Fenriz: no of course not, but the underground was rather lame in the 90s, years like 1997 was extremely bleak for THE REAL OLD HEAVY METAL, for instance. it was as bleak as black metal was in 1990 (only one album came out then i think, it was SAMAELs worship him).
listening to Gangrenator now, very good old school grind death but a bit too clicky bass drums.
i especially honour the kids of the 00s, turning their back on the plastic 90s and going straight back to primitive barbaric mindset like first KREATOR album, people like DEATHHAMMER are a perfect example of what the 00s needed. i use to say that ALL the metal styles DIED in the 90s to be resurrected in the 00s, to put it bluntly.
also, many of us that are 80s metallers (and i mean survivors from the 80s) supported the 80s metal, discovering many lost bands from 60s 70s and 80s and also a lot of those people now had jobs and money to put up small idealistic labels or distros, supporting the old ways. underground the way i see it was perfect in the 80s and in the 00s. THE ROAD OF KINGS LIES AHEAD OF US, PEOPLE!!!
THKD: Furthermore, you’re known for espousing the virtues of “real metal” in interviews and in the aforementioned album liner notes. Do you and Nocturno Culto consider yourselves heavy metal preservationists?
Fenriz: i can’t talk for Ted, but let’s just say YES. But there is no dogma to the music, and there are always exceptions on this planet. it’s more MY METAL FIGHT that seem dogmatic, but i have to keep on fighting against the modern sound. i’ve been like that since 89! if you listen to the bands that are chosen to promote lands like India or the arabic countries, they are almost always a copy of the VERY modern bands of the west, and there is not much originality and they also typically copy something that was “cool in 1998 or 2003”, for this reason alone it is enough to make me fight every day against the overground. it’s bound to be some great people in those countries that want to have old sound and play old styles but i reckon they have HELL trying to get their voices heard. very sad.
17. You and Nocturno Culto were recently tapped to be “guest editors” of Terrorizer Magazine. How involved were you in that process and how much control were you given over that issue’s coverage?
i think we got 14 pages or something, maybe more. it was a prolonging of the BAND OF THE WEEK thing, it was only meant to promote other great bands of the current scene.
THKD: You participated in the recent black metal documentary, Until the Light Takes Us. Have you seen the finished film and what are your thoughts on it? Why do you think the 90’s Norwegian scene continues to fascinate people after all these years?
i haven’t seen it by choice. it was filmed nearly 10 years ago and i was coming out of a depression – i’d kick the 2001 fenriz’ ass in a flash now.
the 90s norwegian scene? selling darkness and depression to western teenagers has been said to be one of the easiest rackets in the universe. so people are fascinated by a visual style, but do they get the music? also i hear it really broke in the usa in 1998, that was five years after the real magic died anyway. i hope they can find the right bands and albums to hear if they want to check the early 90s style, but remember the important releases came from listening only to 80s bands. in 1991 there was only 80s bands with black metal vibes to listen to, remember?
THKD: This question is a bit off topic. I really enjoyed your Isengard material. Will there ever be another Isengard album or other solo material from you?
Fenriz: mayhaps, haha! but right now and since 2001 i’ve only done darkthrone, and i’ve got too little time in my life even for that, it takes a whole lifetime to involve oneself in the underground network!!! it’s INSANE, i get like 50 mails or inquiries a day!
if there is another isengard album i will strip away the folkiest stuff, it will not be death metal either like isengard was on the 1989 demo. maybe the song i like best is the OVER DE SYNGENDE ØDE MOER track, maybe i’d make something around that style. but this is daydreaming and i don’t do and never did any daydreaming. there’s no PLAY in my life, only work and relax. i’ll snap soon.
THKD: You’ve got the floor for this question. Are there any final thoughts you’d like to add?
Fenriz: to the floor!!! don’t forget to listen to the SONG “count your blessing” by MALTEZE
(photo by Fenriz, comic by Nagawika, album art by Dennis Dread)
(originally written for Sonic Frontiers(dot)net)