Inside Darkthrone’s ‘Old Star’ With No-Longer Norwegian Politician Fenriz
Darkthrone are one of black metal's most defining yet atypical acts. They don't wear corpse paint... well, aside from a couple highly influential early '90s album covers. They never got involved in the church burning epidemic that plagued Norway and stereotyped the genre forevermore. They don't perform live "rituals." In fact, drummer Fenriz is incredibly media friendly and a disarmingly humorous cat lover.
That doesn't mean what Darkthrone do isn't serious business, despite all the wonderfully hyperbolic statements about remaining true to metal's '70s and '80s periods (namely in sound) as they place RIFFS on a higher pedestal than absolutely anything else.
Old Star is the 18th Darkthrone album in a 28-year span (if you're counting Goatlord) and one that Fenriz vows is the band's most most '80s album yet. This time, the group decided not to send advance copies to the press, meaning we'll hear it for the first time right when you get the opportunity to on May 31 when it comes out on Peaceville.
Even without hearing a note of the album (this email interview was conducted prior to the release of the single "The Hardship of the Scots"), there's still plenty to talk about, especially since Fenriz fills his days as a post office employee and just wrapped an involuntary term as an elected local politician in Norway.
If that doesn't have you intrigued, turn away now, poser.
The focus of Arctic Thunder was to write shorter songs with Ted (Nocturno Culto) handling all of the vocals. Did you track any vocals this time on Old Star?
The focus was more on making a more diecast introvert album than a lot of the previous ones and it soon became apparent (heir apparent-reference) that we were comfortable with this "new style" where Ted is doing exactly what he wants (as usual) and I am in many ways continuing where I left off in late 1988. So no, no vocals for me this time either. I wrote all the lyrics.
We don't name the songs; after the second recording session Ted takes all the lyrics and then disappears for a month or two and then we send the files for mixing or mastering and then — only after that, I hear what lyrics were used for which song. So I don't have any immediate relation to the songs' titles or lyrics at that point, I mainly know the songs and then when people start referring to the titles it's complicated for me [Laughs.] as I focus mainly on the riffs. This is the first album, though, that I know and remember every riff I made on my songs, which means I can go through the whole songs in my head. Neat!
You said this is Darkthrone’s most ‘80s release. In what regards — traditional/speed metal? Early extreme metal like Hellhammer? Those riffs are never in short supply... The Underground Resistance was pretty ‘80s of you in songwriting and production.
Well, the '80s metal had all kinds of production. I wanted a 1978 drum sound as usual but ended up with a more arena mid '80s sound or even late '80s noise records drum sound (because the drum sound was fitted to the slow parts of Old Star, which is at least 80 percent of the album) and the wall of guitars and bass are more massive this time.
I didn't exactly lie — when you hear the whole album it will be hard not to see it as our most '80s album to date although you are very accurate in your reminiscence of The Underground Resistance, as well. Although it has the first part of "Valkyrie" going all the way back to early '70s influence – there was none of that on Old Star.
Also both Ted and I have several typical Epicus Doomicus Metallicus [Candlemass album] riffs on Old Star, I think. I am almost always making '80s riffs anyway — I am chained to that out of free will. We have a lot of traditional doom and slow thrash and slow heavy metal and slow old death as well, And Ted has various black metal riffs as well.
“The Duke of Gloat” might be my favorite title here. Was this written about anyone specific?
Impossible to get me to say anything about titles or lyrics really, I feel that the words and titles are everyones' property and they can analyze or feel it as they want. I will lead no way here! But when you see the lyrics you will know that it is probably not about a specific person (certainly not Newman from Seinfeld) but perhaps more of a fate or entity even.
Darkthrone haven’t played live since 1996. Do you receive a lot of offers to play live or have promoters given up completely?
I don't really count that gig in 1996, line up was wrong and we were more or less talked into it. Last real live gigs were our Finland tour of 1991. We got offers all the time when we were reachable, now I guess there is no use anymore. I kind of hope they give up, I hate to see wasted energy like that. Still it's nice that someone still wants your act even if they missed the zillions of memo's about it. [Laughs.]
Why does playing live not appeal to you? I imagine getting the primitive tones of a Darkthrone record are difficult to recreate nightly.
ANY record soundscape is impossible to recreate live and there already you have one of the problems. I'm an album person since I got Morrison Hotel by The Doors back in 1973 from my uncle and in my head I'd rather listen to (Iron Maiden's) Somewhere in Time another heaps of times than listen to it with a whole crowd in an organized setting.
I have had a problems with organized [activities] whole my life; [it] felt unnatural. I didn't enter the scouts, just let the camping urge finally hit me when it did. Forest often on my own. Soccer was coolest when we just played on our own instead of organized soccer. Religion was organized and felt very wrong and so on and so on. I dig the organization of distribution of music though!!
Did you watch the Lords of Chaos film? If so, do you think Jonas Åkerlund accurately portrayed the early Norwegian black metal scene?
I didn't even see Until the Light Takes Us. The movie you mentioned is not for me. If people want to experience black metal they should listen to The Return by Bathory alone instead. A lot.
These movies can certainly kill time for some people but since the global metal scene was also the result of tens of thousands of individuals lives since late '60s (let's just say) and the path until one found the global metal underground network....I mean alot of IT ALL was in our brains. For everyone in the global scene and what goes on in the brain must be excruciatingly difficult to portray in moving pictures. Darkthrone for me, for instance, is pure brain work. My other work takes almost NO brain work. Very different jobs, haha!
Your term as a local politician is at an end. Was there been any part of the experience that you’ve enjoyed? What was the most exciting thing you had to deal with?
A lot of us didn't stay for the next period because of a merging of Kolbotn and Ski burrows/counties, which sort of undermines why a lot want to do local politics. They do it cuz [sic] they care and know about LOCAL situations. When we suddenly are merged with a large southern county that we don't necessarily have a burning love for, it's better to just let other people step up.
The experience was....well, mostly an experience. You see a lot of opportunities to make friends (I already have too many acquaintances, I guess) and a lot of people putting in a lot of hours without getting much back. You also see how the leading coalition reigns against the oppression parties. Semi-interesting, it was.
Are you still forbidden from listening to music at the post office?
No, that was just a myopic part of a week, you must have caught me in that bad week. I still listen all the time every work day. That's why I heard such insane amounts of music. At home I do other stuff. Like this interview.
What was your favorite album of 2018 and what are your favorites so far this year?
The Black Viper album [Hellions of Fire], easily.
So far this year it's the new Flight album [A Leap Through Matter, actually released in 2018], new Chevalier [Destiny Calls] and Vultures Vengeance [The Knightlore] is very promising too.
By the way, your “The Bible” comp turned me on to all that super heavy proto-metal (Atomic Rooster, High Tide, Ice Cross) and I got into Undergang from Radio Fenriz!
YES! This is why it makes sense to be on this planet – sometimes I like to help the humans and nowadays I do it via that FENRIZ METAL list on Spotify, I need it to have as many followers as that godawful "Kickass Metal" list that is on there, so any mentions or links you can share of it is great for a lot of people I guess!
Note: see below for the playlist
Thanks for everything!
Thanks yourself. I was motivated to do this interview but the cat had puked up a hairball when I came home so I had to wipe that first, which led me to be mildly less motivated haha.
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