It can be a struggle for bands to release records that people care about over any period of time. That first burst of youthful creativity might be all you’ve got to really offer the world and lead to what you’re remembered for. Other bands might make it a decade or so before internal issues, trends, and the reality of being a working band cause the wheels to come off. Or maybe the band does keep chugging along year after year and puts out albums that feel more like an excuse to tour than something that the artists genuinely needed to release.
Whatever path a band takes, relevancy is hard to come by and, the longer you go on, the more difficult it is to hold onto that significance. Sometimes the path of least resistance is the easiest way to go and bands end up making and remaking the same album year after year. Sometimes bands completely abandon the sound that initially made them beloved and, rightfully or wrongfully, the fans feel betrayed and stop buying the records and attending the shows. Suffice it to say, there are plenty of reasons why longevity is a bit of a lofty goal within music, which is what makes Darkthrone’s run at the top of black metal for nearly 40 years all the more impressive.
Everyone with any worthwhile knowledge of metal knows the “Unholy Trinity.” A Blaze in the Northern sky alone stands as one of, if not the preeminent release of the second wave of black metal and had a huge hand in defining the sound, look, and ethos of an entire genre of metal. If the band stopped after 1994’s Transilvanian Hunger, their place in metal history would be unquestioned and unchallenged. That the band has put out tons of killer records since then has just cemented Darkthrone as one of metal’s (and not just black metal’s) flagship bands.
Granted, everyone hasn’t been onboard for every change and era that Darkthrone has gone through. While it’s easy for diehard fans to see the same threads and themes running through every release of the band, the more crust punk inspired years definitely saw some people fall off of the band as, particularly black metal purists, decried the albums as too far afield of what made them fall in love with Darkthrone in the first place. Bands walk a fine line between changing too much for diehard fans but also not staying so staid that people get bored. To me, those years are exemplary of what I love about Darkthrone and an apt example of a band expertly pulling off that balancing act.
Bands take risks and change directions all the time, much to the chagrin of those who fell in love with the band’s original sound. Yes, the period that starts with The Cult is Alive is definitely different from what came before it and you can tell the band was switching things up a bit. That being said, listen to those bands that inspired Fenriz and Nocturno Culto in the first place and you’ll hear riffs and passages that are easily identifiable as inspirations for most any record from any era of Darkthrone. This specific period of the band isn’t so much of a total change as some people feel but rather taking a different perspective and a different approach to what has always made Darkthrone a top-tier band. Give an album or two in there a fresh listen if you haven’t in awhile and you might just be able to pick out some of the same inspirations on there that you’d hear on Under a Funeral Moon and other early records.
When the opportunity to interview Fenriz came about, I obviously jumped at the chance. Cards on the table, Darkthrone is my favorite black metal band and A Blaze in the Northern Sky is one of my favorite albums of all time. I’ve got “F.O.A.D.” tattooed above my knee and I won’t hesitate to harangue you at length with no real provocation about how the band has never made a bad record. Suffice it to say, this one was a bit of a dream come true for me. Fenriz was very generous with his responses and talked at length about Fenriz Metal Pact, the new Goatlord reissue, last year’s Astral Fortress, and, of course, my beloved F.O.A.D.
First off, what have you been listening to lately?
Fenriz: Well, I’ve been trying to say it on the [Fenriz Metal Pact] (and the other podcast) that what I am doing there is trying to show my musical background and also try to digest what I’ve been listening to when I did 25 years straight of listening to music approximately 11 hours a day and everything just got more and more busy on the listening front. It was already insane from ’93 when I changed from the postal bank to the mundane jobs in the regular postal industry and it wasn’t allowed to listen to music to headset then, but I just ignored it as what happened was that with the mundane job system, my mind would just make continuously whole songs or even magazines to fill the void of everyday work. Once I forgot my headset, I had to go out in the lunch break to buy a new one to stop my mind from exploding with song ideas and whatnot. This was perhaps in the mid ’90s but it says a lot about my mind configuration. And from this point it all got more and more intense cuz in the mid ’90s I was MOSTLY listening to exactly what I wanted. Then, gradually, I started getting more and more tips, burnt CDs, and then, in 2005 after I got the computer (I got it to get out of doing [phone] interviews and also making comp cd’s), I quickly got into Myspace and you can imagine how many tips I’d get – this culminated into the BAND OF THE WEEK Facebook that was initially started by Arjan De Vries as I had no Facebook at the time.
At this point, perhaps 50% of my listening time I sort of had to deal with musical tips. Then in 2014 I decided to see what the global metal journos perspective was, saying yes to the promo department of DEAF FOREVER magazine in Germany, a mag I work for, and I basically checked out most of those promos five years straight while getting a lot of regular tips. I remember making lists, handwritten, of how many releases I checked out during a year BUT THAT ITSELF became a chore and now you can sense that the wheels are starting to come off the vehicle, right? I was looking at the amount of music I had collected/gotten and gone through/rated over the years and I grew furthermore dismal that I was now over halfway into my life and I would never have time to hear a lot of it again.
In 2018 I will seriously start to change things. Listening more to podcasts and trying to cope with what it meant that I could never listen to all the music I had connected with ever again, just parts of it. I stopped checking out the overground promo wheel, it was both a worse world and a better world than I expected but I got a jist of what kinds of metal and production values that metal journos face. The underground is more coincidental, depends on what kind of people you know that tip ya and it was always like this, since the 80s tape trader scenes it was coincidental who you tapetraded with and what demos they had to offer. So from 25 years of 11 hours a day headset time I went to 3 hours of listening time A WEEK. Would you like to calculate how many percentages decrease that actually is? [Editor’s note: From 45% of the week down to 1.7%. There, saved you all the homework!]
The purging of contacts in 2018 and just general abrupt shutdown has NOT led to what I wanted – being able to listen to at least 90% of the time WHAT I WANT and WHAT I WANT almost always means revisiting yet again my beloved ’80s releases. I have still some contacts that provide tips and, ideally, I would digest one tip a week now, in total. The problem is that if I have circa 30 tippers now, I’ve tried to slip into conversation that I need very few tips. But the tippers don’t know who the other tippers are OR how many they are. So I get way too many tips. I want to tell them I only need ONE tip every half year from them but I feel that it would sound harsh. Also, and this is key, one thing that drives people like me and my tippers are ENTHUSIASM and with enthusiasm comes feelings and those feelings are vulnerable to any repression, hahahaha.
So when you ask me what I am listening to these days, I would say I am involuntarily listening to great new music or old music that I missed out on because people ask me to listen to it but FOR ME my dream is really to just listen to my ’80s albums. I mean, if I didn’t have any tips lying around for me and I could just pull out some vinyls and have some beers RIGHT NOW, I would probably listen to my two Crumbsuckers albums, which I have always loved since I bought them. I actually took a day off last week to see if it was possible. I said SOD IT to all my chores and sat down with vinyls and beers. First Possessed[‘s] Beyond the Gates, which is a key album for Ted [Nocturno Culto] and me, not that we sound like them, but the album was and is important. Then I put on Into the Pandemonium, reading the inner sleeve and so on and when that album was done, I had gotten two more tips to check out. The moral to the story is KILL YOUR CELLPHONE WITH FIRE but the thing is, the cellphone is used for so many things now, seems you are always in need of it close by IF ANYTHING SHOULD HAPPEN and trust me I do not mean FOMO but if you are waiting on a message from someone or if anything drastic could happen, maybe you are waiting for a call from a plumber or something – always a reason to have the phone nearby.
So – I can live fine with having no tips at all but I have been getting tips since the ’80s and perhaps I’d miss it and I also don’t want to kill the enthusiasm of my friends. And if I can be really megalomaniac about it – what if I don’t care about tips? If I don’t – who will? HAHAHAHAA I’ve become the guy to tip about music but the vaults were full in 2018 and a lot of what I do on the pods are going through the vaults – digesting and sharing – but there is a tendency on both the podcasts that they are run more by news (old or new) by tips from my friends. Which actually takes less time and effort from me but then the pods are also kinda LESS ME, which I consider, as a product, a good thing. Most of us could probably use a little less of ourselves and especially ME since I have been interviewed constantly since the ’80s. It is probably not healthy.
So recently I listened to the three ’80s Master’s Hammer demos. I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for tips. I would have listened to, FOR EXAMPLE, the first Metal Church album for the umpteenth time if I could choose myself and had no tips.
I wanted to talk a little about the most recent record, last year’s Astral Fortress. Before I ask anything, congrats on the record. It’s another killer one and one that I’ve been spinning a lot since it came out. I think what strikes me the most about it is how fresh you guys still sound. After doing this for so long, is it a challenge to come up with riffs and music that excites and inspires you? Do you do anything to keep the process fresh for you or is it just that way naturally still?
Fenriz: I just had two months of not watching soccer. Then I watched the extra minutes of the training match between France and England women’s team the other night (4-5 minutes) and after circa 3 minutes a new riff arrived in my brain. I have circa 75 riffs now and it’s too many so I just ignore incoming riffs now. I started watching a lot of soccer again in 2014 and this started happening. A couple years later I got a smartphone and could just hum or play riffs onto it and, since I rarely travel, chances are I won’t lose my riffs there like Kirk Hammet did. But if I could, I would just watch soccer again. Hmmm or maybe that wouldn’t work, watching soccer to get riffs? I watch soccer cuz I wanna and then the riffs come. I don’t get that many riffs watching Nordic combined, biathlon, ski jump…but I watch that a helluva lot more than soccer.
So Ted works in a COMPLETELY other way, the last releases he sets the dates for the studio booking and three months before plays guitar a lot and makes his songs. I have riffs that I didn’t use for albums back and since there are too many riffs to go through all of them, I will just let coincidences choose. I also like to have fresh stuff when going to the studio so I tend to make new stuff too just before we go in and as it is waiting in the studio now and then, I can just assemble stuff there, which is SUPER EXCITING for me, and it is just like it was in ’87 and ’88 on our first demos, I’d start recording as soon as ideas were made. Of course now we have more experience and not only a ghettoblaster to record our stuff so, yes, it feels super fresh and I could also record four albums a year EASILY now but it is EVERY LITTLE THING (“Yes” reference) around the albums that are surprisingly draining, interviews and photo sessions the most, but really any little thing, so many decisions. Oh, also lyrics, I couldn’t do lyrics for four albums a year now. Anyway, little decisions about layout and the amount of emails an album creates is simply unending! If you hate emails, NEVER release an album HAHAHA! Sometimes the age of information is, of course, the age of too much information.
Going off that, I talk to bands pretty frequently about what makes their band dynamic work and how they keep a healthy working relationship. You and Ted have been together longer than most bands and band members so I feel like this is a particularly apt question for you. What makes you two work so well together and how have you kept such a productive working partnership for so long?
Fenriz: Ted I met through my friend and sporadic band member of black death Kjetil Aarhus, he knew Ted was looking for a band and he knew I was looking for a better guitarist (sorry Anders), this was back in early spring 1988. I met up with Ted, by then I was experienced in the underground and tapetrading and all of that biz and Ted was not so much, but he was a steady guitarist and little did I know he would perhaps provide a stronghold of stableness for me as I am pretty hyper and have a tendency to burn out, so usually changes in Darkthrone are made in my songs and his songs are more on a steady long, long course but not always – he made “Too Old Too Cold” which was kind of deemed punk by many so there is that, haha! BUT back in those days, say ’88-’98 we mostly met on rehearsals and sometimes parties, then he moved far away in ’92 and then there was perhaps some letters and rarely phone calls, but after I got a cellphone in ’98, we have been texting a lot, weekly or daily. [A] phone call once a year or something. We knew the both of us that DISTANCE was to be a key element to keeping it all afloat steadily. I kinda miss rehearsing, like as a band but it kills the freshness of it, like it did with the Soulside Journey material, many of those songs we had played live and rehearsed way too much for them to work in a studio/on a record FOR ME. We haven’t rehearsed since…before the Hate Them album or Sardonic Wrath album. I guess no rehearsals since 2003, at least.
You credit yourself with “cave drumming” inside the album sleeve. What were you trying to do behind the kit on this one? To me, the drumming style here feels somewhat similar to what you are doing on Eternal Hails…… but dialed back a little bit and it really gives the songs that doomy, cavern feel on them.
Fenriz: Cave drumming was meant IN GENERAL, not for this album alone. I have been playing with max size drum sticks for years now as I believe they are less likely to break on a studio take (and we do NOT want to do many takes!) and that just adds to the caveman drumming. I hit rather hard and since the wall of guitars offer little chances to play dynamic, I just bash away and the same with my feet, stomping more on the pedals than any technique you see from more modern drummers. I am self-taught by ear and drum set up is normal except I don’t play normal, I am left-handed so I didn’t know how to play correctly back as a child, so my left hand plays the hi-hat without the usual crossing of the hands that EVERYONE else does so I have to have the ride cymbal to my left as well. Boring info but spectacular. This does not provide me with a usual attack of drumming, frees me a bit but inhibits me more, it’s more difficult mathematically (drums are maths). All in all it works fine. I consider using smaller drum sticks so I can do more clever stuff on the next album but I still have many thick sticks in my cymbal bags so I kinda want to use ’em all up first. If that isn’t cave man thinking then I don’t know what is.
I know you said recently that you guys are pretty inspired by the Darkthrone back catalogue these days and the cover to Astral Fortress has the Panzerfaust cover on the shirt. Were you consciously inspired by that particular era of Darkthrone and, if so, what about that era resonated with you in the writing of this one? Musically, it felt like some of the tracks on Astral Fortress could fit in with tracks from Panzerfaust.
Fenriz: Not at all! Saying that we are more inspired by OURSELVES is something that comes up in interviews cuz people ask. Mostly I am like Ozzy, I DON’T KNOW, but I am asked and then I try to analyze what is different these days to a period before that. It’s all vague. The photo highlights another problem with making many albums a year – the album cover. I was the happiest about the cover situation back in ’91 when we ALREADY KNEW what would be the covers for our next albums, album two through four. It was GREAT. I absolutely adore to have an image ready like that. It is the exact opposite of having a work commissioned, someone makes the cover out of various ideas which seems to be great for the artists making the covers but is also the exact way that I DO NOT want to work. I want the image beforehand. So before Astral Fortress we had SEVERAL images lying in wait. We had a painting of a capercaillie we wanted to use and Ted and Paul did all the dealings but then the artist hauled in the Norwegian Association of Artists into the deal (a union called BONO, believe it or not) and they wanted numbers on how many cassettes it would sell and T-shirts and various merch and it became IMPOSSIBLE. So we used the photo taken by a teacher of one of his pupils from sports day on the Kolbotn lake/tarn instead. NO deeper meaning but Ted set his meaning to it like the steady course away from all trends and that became the whole meaning behind it. To me it was just one of the cool images we had for the cover. It could have been any hooded shirt on this cover but since it was a Darkthrone shirt – this was the reason the teacher sent it to another teacher friend of mine to send to me. They are both in the Kolbotn band CANOON. So it was all a major coincidence. I have for several albums now gotten tons of riffs like lightning into my head, mostly watching soccer, and when the songs are ready I feel that my songs are rather close to what I would make in ’87 and ’88 so to me – that is what I mean by being inspired by myself. Later I will analyze what bands I think the riffs sound like – which is too much information for some and the bees knees to others. All I know is that other people hear my riffs very differently from what I do and this makes me wonder if I am insane or paranoid so I soldier on making/receiving new songs instead hahaha!
One of my favorite things about Darkthrone is that if you’re an astute listener, you can pick out what influences you guys and I love that you wear those influences on your sleeve. On Astral Fortress I can hear everything from doom to Canadian speed metal. What were some of the influences on that album in particular? I know some people don’t listen to as much outside music when recording and writing, do you change your listening habits when you are actively making music for Darkthrone to keep them from bleeding into the music?
Fenriz: I already explained my current listening world but when a new album is about to be made, I feel inadequate when listening to other metal – I feel like I am not worthy and even the most necro demo makes me feel “what am I doing, I can’t even make metal!” But I can’t stop listening, I make weekly metal podcasts, damnit. Maybe I would listen to some other types of music IF I HAD THE CHOICE but I haven’t. To battle this, every day when going to another studio recording day on Astral Fortress, I put on Dimension Hatröss by Voivod instead, as it is technical and otherworldly and far from what we would be doing in the studio. Still metal – but would influence me minimally. But before Eternal Hails, I would put on [the] Ride the Lightning album instead – but that album is a constant influence so that move is like the opposite. What would not be smart for me would be to put on Mob Rules before going into the studio because I am already too influenced by the drumming there already. Or The Last in Line, prime time V APPICE.
I can analyze 90% of my riffs on Astral Fortress right now but I already did it in other interviews and it is lengthy and exhausting. [“The Sea Beneath the Seas of the Sea”] song just turned out just like I imagined Darkthrone would be back in ’87 and ’88 so it’s perfect to me. First riff on “Eon 2” is just gallopping thrash and I was always thinking about Exodus’ “Piranha” but after that Anders Marken pointed out that old TYRANT classic “Hold Back the Lightning” and he is on the money but that track was not even in my subconcious almost…perhaps more in my subconcious was “Torture in the Tower” by German Warrant or something or first part of the refrain riff from “Powerslave” by Maiden (first riff I learnt to play by myself, my uncle taught me “Smoke on the Water” before that) but I needed a guitar sound like on our albums The Underground Resistance/Arctic Thunder/Old Star for that kind of riff and for several riffs on the two previous albums. That guitar sound was one of the reasons I started making palm mute riffs again for pretty much the first time since the ’80s for Darkthrone. But on the last two, that guitar sound was lost and so I stuck the “Eon 2” track as the last track, I was disappointed. Also the snare sounds untight but isn’t. Weird, but then the second riff comes and I made a twin guitar harmony for Ted to play and it sounds just like slow 1986 Metallica so I was very happy. Then comes the part when the poem is read/sung and I just needed a platform and an intermediate for that so I dunno what it sounds like to me, perhaps some sad slow Bathory or Burzum. Then comes the bombastic riff with the toms, totally ’84 Metallica I reckon, one of the best riffs I made but no one seems to notice. Then back to riff one and then the final riff where I was thinking somewhere along the lines of “The Day at Guyana” by Agent Steel but sounds nothing like it, obviously. This riff is my idea to fade in again on “Eon 3” (the poem is 3 pronged so i need to make eon 4 too) so the saga will continue like that. Perhaps.
Speaking of influences, are you ever surprised when people ask about the traditional heavy metal and doom metal influences on the band like they are new or that they started at some specific point in the discography? Maybe it’s just because I listen to it all the time but the doom influences on albums like A Blaze in the Northern Sky (particularly on “Kathaarian Life Code”) aren’t that hard to pick up on. I feel like sometimes people forget that doom wasn’t only about slowness.
Fenriz: BEST QUESTION EVER!!! In no way could I have stated this problem better myself. Right on the money! The thing is, the biography that stuck and could be read anywhere is that we started out as a death metal band. This is far from correct!!!! That is the start of our ’90s period. We’re old geezers and in the ’70s we were exposed to ’60s fuzzrock or metal and regular ’60s and in the ’80s we were exposed to ’70s band while also checking out ’80s bands so our musical minds are strongly at home there and Black Sabbath was a big part of that, but amazingly exactly Black Sabbath I was not exposed to until Live Evil came out and I had it on a dubbed tape and tried to draw the cover on my little cassette front and it was a very obscure album to me. Hugely influential as in on our Denmark gig almost 10 years after me discovering Live Evil. I would do the talking in between the songs and it was a lot like hearing Dio in between songs on Live Evil hahaha but this album gave me no fresh vibes, it was like discovering an old lost planet, the ’70s feel was all over Live Evil.
I was discovering “CURRENT” ’80s through “Lick It Up” video when we got cable TV in 1983 and I was already a Kiss fan, rushed away to buy the album but was largely appalled. Happened with several acts discovered through cable TV. Invasion of Your Privacy by Ratt i still like a lot though, great guitar fuzz and all, and Hanoi Rocks. Amazingly, I was a huge fan of “Queen of the Reich” by Queensryche because of cable TV BUT NEVER GOT HOLD OF THE FLAME/ALBUM and so when I first bought it in ’90/’91, I couldn’t believe what I had missed out on. GODLY. Ok, so things like these happened a lot during 1980-1985, it was coincidental what I discovered. I bought a lot of albums by wrong bands for me, OR wrong albums by the right bands. Motorhead for instance. I was starting to get a handle on things in late ’85 and in 1986 I also had work money and could buy SHITLOADS of albums and I was DOWN, haha! And Black Sabbath had learnt us that doom was certainly not only slow. That only slow thing came with WINTER and I wasn’t so pleased. I mostly did the “Servants of the Warsmen” song from the demo. No, it was with Epicus Doomicus Metallicus that our minds exploded in ’86 and has always been an inspirational source but not on every album, of course. But that album is in our bloodstream. But my point is we basically went through of course not all heavy metal sounds on the planet, but sporadically here and there had gotten the gist of it before we started to play ourselves. And me in particular would just shower the music with all kinds of styles.
First Darkthrone demo, Land of Frost, has a plethora of styles and dynamics (attempted dynamics, we didn’t have much talent). By summer of ’89 we had crystallized into more of a one-style thing and that gave us a record deal. So what does that teach young minds? Shave off enthusiasm for all you’ve heard, go for ONE style. We didn’t really, but in late ’89-late ’90 we were a bit closer to one style than before. As you say, A Blaze has several styles but LOOKS pure BM so people just see it that way. On Transilvanian Hunger I decided to go for one TEMPO instead just because I was nuts at the time perhaps, but after that we’ve had variation again. Panzerfaust is varied, for instance, and then Total Death and then I fell into depression and Ted made most of the songs on Ravishing Grimness and Plaguewielder so they aren’t super-varied perhaps but after that again we’d had plenty of variation. Actually, almost too much so I decided to tighten the reins a bit on Arctic Thunder and onwards but really I feel we are perhaps still “THE BEST BORING BAND” as Gezol from Metalucifer/Sabbat once said in a blind-fold listening session of new albums back in ’91 when our Soulside Journey album had been released.
I wanted to ask a little about the making of one of my favorite albums of yours, F.O.A.D. I have F.O.A.D. tattooed above my knee in honor of it, one of probably way too many metal tattoos I have. What do you remember about what you wanted to do with that album and what kind of inspiration you had during the creation of that record?
Fenriz: Haven’t heard it for almost 15 years! At least that’s what it feels like when I put on “These Shores (shorts) are Damned” right now. Ted’s song, feels like he could have written it now or for any of the previous albums, really. Drum sound is boxy but drummers out there will hear how hard I actually hit here, it’s full throttle and waaaay too many fills and details. Many probably like it that way but I have gotten into an aversion for overplaying over the years. Overplaying on this one. So, for this album, it was our second on the Necrohell 2 portable studio Ted bought. We recorded The Cult is Alive I think in two or three settings but now I wanted us to only record two songs for each session, one each, one extra if needed. So I am thinking we had four sessions for this. Long haul getting up there to Kjella’s house and basement where we did five albums [between] 2005-2013. I think these recordings sound honest and cool, I can understand why strict BM fans don’t find much here but that scope was not for me. We coulda used an EDITOR for these freestyle albums of 2005-2013 perhaps, but they were also meant to be recorded and we’d see 15 years later if they stood ground. Well it’s 15 years later now and what I am hearing is a band that AT LEAST succeeded in going FREESTYLE! There is even room for embarrassment, like my falsetto on “Canadian Metal.” Some good V APPICE homages on drums on “Church of Real Metal.” This album so far sounds HARSH AND REAL and extremely alive.
In “Church of Real Metal,” I made a long part with guitars being added and added on lighter notes, an OBVIOUS homage to Pentagram’s “Burning Saviour” I thought but it seemed no one noticed. Had we already been pigeonholed out there as a pure BM band? With our inspirational sources that was and is certainly catastrophical so we soldiered on. I got Pentagram through Wild Rags in ’89. No one knew about them here at that point. Our albums are always like demos, these 2005-2013 albums also have demo SOUND and I have to say that I think that is cool as hell. Patting ourselves on the back here but The Cult is Alive and F.O.A.D. and Dark Thrones and Black Flags and Circle the Wagons….we had SOME BALLS even putting this out. This album, I am now on “Banners of Old,” feels extremely spontaneous and uncontrolled – we were just lettin’ loose! – perhaps it really IS real metal? The album starts with me behind the drumkit saying “dette blir spennende” (this’ll be exciting), totally unplanned, I was just enthused and we also didn’t know what song would start the album or be where on the album. I think my song F.O.A.D. works the least best so far into the recording. This often happens on our albums, as I have one vision in my HEAD of what my riffs/song will sound like as a finished product after mixing (I didn’t mix haha) and sometimes the final product is too far from my vision. Other songs can work even better than imagined so it’s not always a loss either! We often fade songs btw, ’60s had quick fades, ’70s long fades. We grew up with fades! Somewhere along the lines we learnt that even THAT was a problem for many. So we try to work on song endings now but it never really interested us, fading songs are natural to us! We actually LIKE it! “You can’t touch me here!” sings Ted on the “Splitkein Fever” to my lyrics. When I hear that I think STRANGER DANGER hahaha! It actually means you are basically not easy to access in the forest and that is what it feels like being there. “Atomic Coming” was on the previous album. Both “Splitkein” and “Atomic” are ski brands! On this song, Ted opted for a VERY thin and old guitar sound and I think it’s so necro that it works really well, the whole song. What a deep cut!
Now it’s “Raised on Rock,” didn’t know that it was an Elvis title! Two of my songs in a row here. I mention in the lyrics I was a thrasher since ’84, had heard a song from Ride the Lightning on radio and had “Motorbreath” on the Metal Hammer Heavy Order was sampler. I basically still feel like my lyrics here, angry lyrics and angry singing. I don’t OFTEN listen to Venom’s “Acid Queen,” though. Just making a point. I like the ending of the song, it’s like a song ending from ’81 Iron Maiden Killers album…ok for some reason it reminds me of the ending of “Drifter.” By the way, the drum ending of “Purgatory” from Killers…the four bass drum/three snare drum beats at the VERY end…I have done that on at least 4-5 Darkthrone tracks and NO ONE ever noticed. I always assumed (incredibly wrongly) that people listening to Darkthrone have about the same musical background as we did but apparently not..not even sure if Ted ever got it! haha! I think “Raised on Rock” works ok… I listened to that one and especially “Canadian Metal” a lot when they were still not released so I got kinda tired of them.
“Pervertor of the 7 Gates”, wow, you can hear how INCREDIBLY dry the drums are here, drier than on the Pete Gill produced Where Legend Began by English Dogs from ’86 and that is almost impossible. Very cool idea I had here with cutting out the left guitar on the verses, worked as well as I wanted it to. This second riff of the song doesn’t work so well, I just wanted some ’70s Sabbath vibe there, I think, as a bridge to the first verse. I dig the other riffs, this is one of my “lost” tracks as I really liked it, same with an Isengard track called “The Fog” (title being homage to the band Goatlord). And so we have arrived (hello Dark Angel) to the last track of the album, “Wisdom of the Dead” (Ted) and it’s Ted’s song. Before selling my DT CD’s I had also rated all of them with notes inside so those that bought them also got the rated notes I had made for myself for interviews/just for “fun”. I seem to remember this being the track that got the highest rating. I like Ted’s grim heavy metal and also the guest vocals by Czral (Aura Noir). One of my best lyrics too, perhaps. the final part of the song ACTUALLY GAVE ME GOOSEBUMPS now! Has to with those two desperate tortured screams by Czral after the four-minute mark, he had been through Hell and we had helped him so I probably feel that extra intensely.
To me, that era where you guys started to bring some of the retro-metal influences more to the forefront is one of my favorite periods for Darkthrone. What led to that shift at that particular point in time? Was it kind of refreshing to switch it up a little bit there and try something different? I know that you always have riffs and passages inspired by that classic ’80s sound but this era really put those more front and center.
Fenriz: Thank you! Yeah, people call it the punk albums but they are less punk than STRAPPADO by Slaughter (recorded February ’86!!!) and has a lot of metal on it. Certainly very little ’90s stuff on it as was intended but we were never home in the ’90s anyway. My belief is that Ted might have eased into some kinda ’90s mode for some reason, to me he only said he wanted to make heavy metal, and these albums were the gateway to bring ’80s Ted back in full armour. But the punk attitude is 100% as that was what punk meant in the ’60s with bands like THE SONICS that just did things more or less themselves, and F.O.A.D. is a DIY album but we’ve had many of those! sprinkled throughout our career. Well, what happened was that I met Oscar and Tim from OLD and I had just gotten my computer. They would send me lots of tips and burnt CD’s with a LOT of the stuff from the ’80s that I had missed out on! And others did too, it was a lot of that in the ’00s and it was like a second spring for me, I hadn’t really been excited about a huge percentage of the metal since ’89, also because of production values but also tempos that were typical for the ’80s felt alienating to me, and it just got worse and worse after ’98 so Oscar and Tim helped me discover both old bands I had missed out on (in the ’80s MONEY stood in the way of discovering a lot and also NO INFO and BAD DISTRIBUTION. And also new bands playing old styles).
So it was like a deluge that lasted for ten years until I thought, before Arctic Thunder, that we needed to become a bit more DIE CAST, a certain ONENESS about our band…and then we broke through, on our 16th album. We’d never made heaps of money but it got better after that. And kept going better. That could have been a result of several various things but it seems Darkthrone followers will choose a more accessible and “serious” Darkthrone over the unruly period that you so enjoy. But we never really had a BIG breakthrough, instead we held an OK curve over the years. It feels REALLY good to have made those unruly albums, though, it’s like it is strange that we had it in us. What led up to it was that we had done five albums in a row in four different studios and we felt perhaps that it was standing a bit still, with Sardonic Wrath the studio crashed too and also we had gotten back with Peaceville – I think for the second time around they did not get the band that they had signed for as they couldn’t know we were about to go freestyle but we wanted to record ourselves and not in studios then. But they supported us a lot even though the albums probably didn’t sell very much…I did TONS of interviews then too. I know I sounded like a primadonna before complaining about all the stuff surrounding an album but I did INSANE amounts of interviews during 2005-2011. I don’t know if this was a good answer, sorry. With the studio we knew we’d have a rough and rough sound so it would fit with going freestyle, I mean a lot of the old NWOBHM singles were just quickly going into whatever local studio and just bash out a song and that is what we would do with our own studio as well, in the middle of nowhere at Kjella’s house, where we had rehearsed for Sardonic Wrath, probably but not sure. The studio and the sound we got was much fresher on The Cult is Alive, though. Stuff sounded a bit more muffled after that and remember there were sooo many sessions. These albums are basically singles released as albums, in that manner.
I also love the Dennis Dread covers of the albums during that era, particularly the inclusion of the Mr. Necro figure. How did he come about? It feels like every great metal band needs a mascot at some point and he’s a killer looking dude.
Fenriz: I just wanted more of the STRAPPADO album cover. Ted said he wanted a helmet. And Dennis took care of the rest.
That era kind of came to an end when you released Arctic Thunder and seemed to be returning more to a classic Darkthrone style rather than staying with more of the retro-metal themes. Do you remember why you chose to bring back more of the traditional Darkthrone style there and why you moved away from the sound of the previous few albums? Have you ever been tempted to write in the style similar to the F.O.A.D. years since Arctic Thunder?
Fenriz: Oh, I felt we were even MORE retro perhaps, but not trying every wild idea. Again it CAN have something to do with the album cover and the sound but we were still recording DIY on Necrohell. The Underground Resistance now stands like some sort of transitional record because Ted was starting to draw in more doom metal and so I started making more heavy metal/slow thrash riffs. And heavy metal we didn’t have in the beginning much..like ’87, ’88 because we (like many) at that point felt “past” heavy metal and so the slow thrash thing had completely vanished and it was supposed to be integral to our sound but now we could include that as well and so from then on (Arctic Thunder), we have been playing around with really almost as many styles as the Mr. Necro years but keeping it on a tighter leash AND do not forget the biggest change I could make from one album to the other – I would remove MY VOCALS more or less completely and BOOM you have a muuuuch more diecast band in a split second. So that was the most major change going into Arctic Thunder.
Also, we recorded that in the old bomb shelter at Kolbotn where we rehearsed in 1988 and 1989. And also, from The Underground Resistance, Jack volunteered to master our stuff. We had a deadline for Eternal Hails so we didn’t have time to master. Ted could not mix Old Star so Jack had him who mixed Voivod’s previous record for that. But also the lyrics are way more serious, they are probably what takes you most back into Darkthrone Hell PROBABLY, but perhaps in a subconscious way. The way I see it, there is no “classic” Darkthrone period. We see the changes constantly, from within the band. This being said, after A Blaze in the Northern Sky was recorded I told the others that we all write our own songs from now and all shall be included. This means that Ted can make what he wants and I can too and we can not push each other. Whatever Ted makes is to me a total coincidence and the other way around too. We want it to just progress or regress the way it must or comes naturally. I just want to keep my mindset of riffs back into ’87 and ’88 but whatever comes like lightning while watching soccer or whatnot could end up on an album. Or not.
I’ve been enjoying the Hell out of The Fenriz Metal Pact. How did bringing the radio show back as a podcast come about? Did you miss doing the show in the period between it ending and you starting the podcast?
Fenriz: Nah, 2018 as I explained, I had filled my life and brain and space too much with music for 25 years straight through headset at my work, so a big break in my life came on and I decided to cool it after the 50 first episodes of the Radio Fenriz Podcast on Soundcloud. The hours, days, and years behind that podcast started to feel as if I am doing ridiculous amounts of public service for free. Call me greedy but it was taking its toll. My friend started working for the Tons of Rock festival and he set me up with a meeting to see if they could help me set up a podcast in Norwegian with my usual metal stuff only this time it would be a strong focus on the HISTORY of metal which because of tips now and after 82 episodes has become also a news section. So I earn some money on that but not colossal amounts. Then it turns out I have to have the music on that pod on a separate playlist which is AWESOME for some but most people, I guess, wanted the usual radio format. I guess I aired my frustration about it to Shandy and he said let’s try to put the old show back on on Patreon. Let’s be clear, if we make 100 dollars, Patreon takes, what, 12-17%, 20% goes to Shandy and when I get my share, 40% of those remains go to taxes. So we’re far from getting a Rolls Royce, more likely a mint first pressing of ROYCE Rolls, haha!
So, I obviously missed 2 things: having a podcast as a radio show again AND connecting worldwide (the only ones that understand the other podcast are other Norwegians and some Swedes).
What can you tell me about the release of Goatlord-Original? I’m really excited to see that one getting a proper remaster and release here. How involved with the remaster were you and is it odd for you to go back and hear those particular songs from that era again?
Fenriz: It’s not odd at all, it was our lost album and therefore I never stopped listening to it – which was the reason for me to pick up on it in circa ’94/’95 and lay down vocals for it. But it was not like that with vocals from the beginning, it was just – I had the original tape and recorded that into channel one of Necrohell 1 and laid vocals on the other three tracks. An old TASCAM, it was originally bought by the Sorkness brothers from Valhall, but I lent it alot in the first part of the ’90s. But it started to spread already in ’91, this tape, without the vocals. So I think it was Paul from Peaceville AND Patrick Engel (look him up!) that had the idea of getting my original tape. So I had to send it (my preciousss!!) through the mail (risky, I should know as i’ve been postal for decades HAHAHA) to Patrick and then he sent me examples, he is not remastering as such, more cleaning up thoroughly and enhancing and I got the vinyl the other day and it sounds FANTASTIC, I mean it’s just a rehearsal of the tracks we made in late ’90 and early ’91 that was made for the purpose of not forgetting the riffs until next rehearsal. I made copies for the other guys as we went along, recording one or two brand new tracks each time – so it’s kind of a VERY REAL rehearsal for the original purpose of a rehearsal, we were going to record it in August ’91 but instead we ended up using that studio time for A Blaze in the Northern Sky. Lucky shot! Ted loves it as well, it’s one of the Darkthrone albums I’ve heard the most and know the best by detail, it’s like muscle memory but many of the things I play on drums there are so technical I could never play it again, probably. I told Patrick to keep all of the tape, meaning all banter and stuff between songs are kept as is. This is especially important to me as it is a snapshot of that time and the way we were as a band. And I got my tape back. But from now I will only need to put this vinyl on to be back in late ’90, early ’91, fantastic. But what do I know about remastering? Here is a regular cassette, I guess the process of making it sound better is in fact MORE difficult than a normal (?) remastering where you have access to an actual multitrack recording and can steer around like ya wanna.
Photo at top: Goatlord – Original Album Cover