One of the best qualities of Fenriz that united all the releases of Darkthrone – very specific kind of atmosphere. Whether these are classical Transylvanian Hunger, A Blaze in A Northern Sky or recently released – Arctic Thunder and Old Star.
Under the dust of lo-fi energetics – an important part of sounding of Dakrthrone, Fenriz and the band mix a variety of riffs. More thrash-y and doom-y, playing with the structure and tempo. They don’t get to a punk-side too much or into thrash-metallic side. They’re who they are. And Eternal Hails is the best proof of Darkthrone’s unique ability to be different staying the same.
In the interview for Louder Than War, we speak with founding member of Darkthrone – Fenriz. About the nature of Eternal Hails… and natural tempo of his writing, about recording process and post-production part, about aesthetics and doom.
LTW: You said that the work on Eternal Hails… started with the riffs you wrote in late 2018. But only after a year you started putting everything together. How do you develop the initial idea going into writing part ?
Fenriz: “It was February 2019 and at that time we were getting mixes of the Old Star album to listen to and report back on (changes and so forth) and in February it is also the middle of biathlon season (avid, AVID biathlon fan). That’s when the riffs started pouring in. And it still hasn’t stopped.
But I like to go into a new record/studio session with brand new material so at least half of LOST ARCANE CITY OF UPPÅKRA was made in August 2020. And Hate Cloak was pieced together like a Frankenstein’s monster from older riffs, which is basically a very intuitive puzzle. The end result is that someone says it was puzzled correctly and others would say incorrectly, to oneself the truth usually shows 25 years later or so.
Anyway, it is safe to say that these two methods differ a lot and also after 35 years of career (this Christmas) there really is no typical way of working. Except we go to Africa to THE GREAT RIFF VALLEY to find our stuff.”
LTW: Is it typical timing for you ?
Fenriz: “No, but I really had material for two albums already there in summer of 2019 and I was expecting us to go into the studio that September so in my eyes ETERNAL HAILS is way overdue, like 14 months postponed.”
LTW: Eternal Hails… was recorded in a real-studio in Oslo. While many of your previous releases (correct me if I’m wrong) were made in your home studio on 4-track or 8-track. What pushed you to do this and how different was your work in comparison with your usual methods ?
Fenriz: “Yeah, half of our albums are done in pro studios, the other half are home recordings. On and off! That’s just the way life turned out, real Forrest Gump-like. And now we are back working in a studio again. Anyway, when man make plans the gods laugh and vice versa (laughs)
We rehearsed and recorded demos in our old rehearsal place which was a bomb shelter in 1988-1990 and in 2015 we returned there and recorded Arctic Thunder and Old Star there and it felt great, finally we were BACK! But the bomb shelter was in rather poor condition and in May 2019 the bomb dropped – all the bands were evicted as it was deemed unfit for human activities. So, it was shocking.
I couldn’t deal with it for almost a year! I tried to get some sort of surrogate for it but I was just too let down. Then I was at a party at Kolbotn and Kickan from Nekromantheon said they’d just recorded in this Oslo studio (Kolbotn is surgically attached to Oslo anyway so it’s not far).
I asked for the number and then I gave it to Ted and he started having contact with Chaka Khan Studios in springtime 2020 and then in November 2020 we were recording. in sessions, did another session in January 2021.
There was also the face that our home studio Necrohell 2 was becoming obsolete and harder and harder for Ted to work in. Between Arctic Thunder and Old Star we lost a studio component leaving us with only one channel for overhead mics on Old Star – alas no one noticed (laughter).
So, I guess that was already a sign that times were changing for us. But when we were in CHAKA KHAN it felt like a new start for us, I had so much energy I had to walk it off in the cellar catacombs of the studio building in between songs (after we record a song, I have to wait for Ted to do another guitar and then bass before continuing on the next song).”
LTW: With Darkthrone you’ve always been very particular about the way your records being made. But when you combine both production part and the process of creation, like you do, is it difficult to see the whole picture? For instance, when a band works in a studio with producer, he or she would be the person who’d show them another direction\point of view being both side-man and the person involved in the process of work.
Fenriz: “No, we haven’t! We throw caution to the wind. We are very HANDS OFF and extremely much so this time as we wanted to establish an extremely friendly environment for us and Ole & Silje ‘cause they are now part of the whole operation. It is fast and furious and we always leave warts and all to make the recordings sound very alive with a lot of nerve. And as less and less bands do that. We gain from it. We’re KISS “Alive” while a lot of others are “Rock n Roll Over” (sorry, i just got megalomanic). Also, we have an extremely separated creation part and production part, the songs are always ready when we enter the studio.
Then when the product hit the streets it seems most people hear very different things than I hear on the album leaving me to believe that all people hear different things, OR that it is just me which leaves me pondering existential crisis for myself. We had more control on our rehearsal recordings than most studio recordings, for sure. People think they know what they want when visiting studios here and there but if bands were more honest, they’d talk more about how they do NOT have control of the soundscape in any given studios because there are so many variables.
What I have in my head when I make the songs always seem to vary a lot from the final product and it was always so – more or less. When people just go and choose a producer because they want a soundscape that they’ve heard before it is TOTALLY understandable, it is just that WE DO NOT DO THAT. Instead we are willing to let coincidences create a soundscape that is unchartered or unheard of before. But if it was 1984-86 now, I would go to Denmark and Flemming Rasmussen in a heartbeat. But those days are over.”
LTW: When I heard Transylvanian Hunger for the first time, I made the conclusion that it’s a record with a high compositional complexity in terms of songwriting. Since then, you’ve been experimenting with doom quite a lot…
Fenriz: “Nah, there was always doom. I could sit down with you and point out all the doom parts from 1988 recordings and onwards but most importantly are the doom parts on Kathaarian Life Code – the first song on “A Blaze In The Northern Sky”. Doom isn’t all slow, back in the day there was doom FEELING, the bands didn’t have just slow stuff, talking about Black Sabbath, Trouble, Revelation…even St.Vitus. Candlemass had strong emphasis on doom but it wasn’t until the WINTER album came out that there was really a dogmatic doom genre being born. And I had very little interest in that. I prefer it when the slow riffs show up here and there as well, a lot…A LOT of heavy rock and metal has doom riffs, a lot of thrash bands have it, especially Metallica [of]84-86[eras] and a lot of death-metal bands. This is no secret.”
LTW: But when you choose lower tempo, how does it affect your songwriting part? Since you obviously have more space to operate with.
Fenriz: “Don’t need no dogmatic doom, just THE SLOW RIFFS or doom metal feeling, which is so-so much older than dogmatic doom (starting of course in the dreaded 90s). I like Servants of the Warsmen by Winter from the demo though. The demo is rad, really full on Celtic Frost vibes there, which also has a LOT of doom – Celtic Frost, I mean.
Transylvanian Hunger was me making and recording an album. All by myself in two weeks. I was on a roll. But you don’t have a lot of control of the sound on a 4 track, it’s just the guitars gelled well with the bass there and so it sounded like nothing else. But it was all “fast”. It was back to having doomier riffs again on the next album. Historically the slow parts of heavy rock were worked in first, 65-69 with for instance Vanilla Fudge, Grand Funk even. It was Deep Purple that really cemented the fast songs being a solid definite part of heavy rock. I have a whole podcast series on this but alas, it is in Norwegian for the Swedish and Norwegian audience.
I am trying to think back to if and when we were a band with emphasis on the “fast” parts. Except for Transylvanian Hunger, never. There isn’t much aggression, we were bad at playing fast thrash when we tried back in late 88 early 89. More comfortable playing slower parts.
And it is closer to what we grew up with BEFORE entering the faster thrash metal realm in 85/86. So, the songwriting constructing my songs were almost identical on these three last albums, however I could put more riffs into the songs this time, making them more epic. And Ted did that as well! We are not a doom metal band, but we definitely have a lot of a doom metal feel now, trying to age with style I reckon.”
LTW: From your personal perspective, how unusual was your work on Eternal Hails…?
Fenriz: “It felt very back to the beginning, when Ted joined in springtime/early summer of 1988. We had a couple of rehearsals in summer ’88. And then got thrown out of another place. Finally, Ivar found the bomb shelter opportunity at Tårnåsen (Kolbotn) and then we recorded the track called SNOWFALL. That’s what we’ve been closing in on since 2015 really and we are the closest to that kind of song now so it’s come full circle (with the album cover and all) and a fresh start all at the same time.
However, there’s been MANY new starts in this band. With additions in the studio it felt a bit like back to the “A Blaze In The Northern Sky” actually, we also did that there..And that was recorded exactly 30 years ago at Kolbotn too, in Creative studio. Gets me all misty eyed (laughs)! OLD YELLER!!! (laughs).”
LTW: As it was said, some of the periods of your career were and are more intense then the others. In compositional, lyrical senses. What usually creates this intensity ? You day-life or maybe reaction to some things ?
Fenriz: The riffs just fall into my head since February 2019. So I don’t know what triggers that. It’s especially while watching soccer actually, but really could be anything.
I spend a lot of time in front of the screen or my head down in the news, reading that much could end up making it easier for me to delve into a language bank but it would have to be an internal language bank, translated, because I obviously read a lot of news in Norwegian.
I think being able to deal with two languages actually help creating my own language through the lyrics, not trying to be pretentious here but I certainly have my own voice in the world of lyrics/poetry, I’d say.
However, lyrics are more utensils than poems, but sometimes that veil is wafer thin. I have had a lot of freedom and diversity throughout 35 years of lyrics writing, that’s for sure! But most the lyrics are certainly pulled from a darkness within that never seems to leave. It hurts to see them again.”
LTW: After the recording of A Blaze in the Northern Sky, you get rid of the collaborative thing as it was said many times. But when you and Ted write separately having some sort of collection of ideas, how to understand where to put this riff or that chord progression? Is it all intuitive to you?
Fenriz: “Ted writes a lot more compact than me, why that is [like this] – I don’t know. You’d have to ask him. But he’s branched out now, on the voyage to a North Pole Adrift-track, writing some detached opening riffs. Very unusual. It would be easy for me to write compactly, I think, I proved that on Transylvanian Hunger, writing a whole album compactly. Dead easy.
BUT I had to break my chains on that one, since I naturally do not write like that. I like breaks, I always complicate things for myself, I have always had a too wide collection of references and that is just ME as a person, so I will stick to it. Even though many times I am very uncertain if it will work. Therefore, I must TRUST THE RIFF. The riffs will make it all good.
Chord progression, well, sometimes I go with the intuition, sometimes i go against it, sometimes we have to move a whole final part which was also the initial part to another chord level so as to make it sound ok. I mean, after having heard a lot of music through life….You don’t put the flour into the cake AFTER it’s done…but sometimes it is tempting. I think it’s perhaps an underlying fear of stepping into boring traps that makes us not write hits.
I also listened to a lot of KISS in my life (74-81 period) and I’ve never stopped…There is a lot that works there and a lot that doesn’t work for me, I try to step away from the boring traps, I agree that overthinking things usually don’t help but usually under thinking can probably be bad as well. There are so many stories about how hits are made in 20 minutes. Because that makes a great story. There are probably equal amounts of stories of hits that took weeks to make out there. But those are not fetching stories.
After all, we are metal blacksmiths here. We kind of have our tricks of the trade down now, we want to sound like ourselves while always changing, like a riverbed OR WHAT HAVE YOU (laughs!)”
LTW: There’s a variety of a great riffs on His Masters Voice – from more classical Motorhead-like to something more thrashy. How did you write this one ?
Fenriz: “Ted wrote that one. I wrote the second song and the fifth and Ted the rest. It sounds like a good compact track like his Wake Of The Awakened, my idea is that Ted sits down and creates. I have been lucky that riffs just fall into my head. Yet, when I get one riff I can play it on guitar and suddenly I have 3, 4 more and then I record them and I feel really happy.
Feel like I am back to the well, back in ‘87, and then suddenly I go through the song in my head and BOOM…Wait! There’s another riff! I am going to get my guitar out again…That feels best, when a whole song comes like that. But it doesn’t mean that it will be the song I like the most. Ted made an intro and outro for that song, making it feel less compact and also less like Wake Of The Awakened I guess.”
LTW: You ended up using the drum-set of Carmine Appice. Could you tell the readers of Louder Than War, how does this came about ?
Fenriz: “Ole Øvstedal bought it! He only has old equipment…I don’t think he likes anything from after 1982 or 83 or something. For me, as a drummer, it is always a HUGE challenge to play anyone’s drum-kit but my own. But since my own is in storage I tried to play the kit that was already in the studio. It was less stressful ALTOGETHER to try this solution.
It’s his brother Vinnie that had the most impact on me by the way! I listened to Live Evil so much…It was one of the first metal albums I’ve ever heard. So I heard it to bits. Then I got the Mob Rules and then The Last In Line by Dio…So it was Vinnie for me. Carmine totally rocks in Cactus – over 50 year old recordings..I heard the kit I played on was what he used while he played with Rod Stewart. All this might be rumors…I don’t really care that much but it’s cool that it’s old. I had to use my own pedals though – though they’re very old and primitive.
LTW: I think, a lot of your writing works like a good homage. When you hear it, you can understand where your inspiration came from. At the same time, being a writer, you also have this dilemma – not to repeat the original and make it sound like YOU. At least, this is how it works with some of the writers. Does this make sense for you, Fenriz ?
Fenriz: “People say this but then when they say what it thinks it sounds like (ingredients) it is almost never the same ingredients that I MYSELF think it sounds like. It drives me mad. At the same time, I know that this means something, we are not homaging we are MAKING OUR OWN. How else would we have all this utter confusion around what it actually sounds like? We’ve been doing this since the first demo!
When we didn’t work like this, it was just the exceptions. I can’t repeat an original, I get the riffs into my head while watching (usually) sports or crime series! So, you can tell me what YOU THINK is going on and I can tell you what I THINK this and that riff sounds like. But where one person hears one thing, another hears something completely different.
Then again, I hear something else entirely! ARRRRGH what is going on?! (laughs). And then again, Ted made 60% of this album and I cannot say anything about that as he does not tell me.”
LTW: What’s the usual way for you to work in the studio and how much it has to do with your initial punk-rock type of mindset ?
Fenriz: “(Laughs) I didn’t know about punk rock until 86. But I have a DIY factor to my life, of course. In the studio, it’s boom fast and loose! But a lot of concentration.”
LTW: Following your own words, you never plan anything. At the same time, unlike many artists, you have quite short pauses between the records. When it comes to the writing a new album, does it feel like a necessity to you? Like if you have A STRONG desire to get back to some state.
Fenriz: “I feel that THAT is what I do. I wanted all my childhood life to make albums, like my beloved Sweet Freedom album. It was with me since ‘74 and that album was exciting to me. I was so happy when getting a record deal. I couldn’t believe it!
At the same time, I was so immersed in the underground and playing metal it felt natural too. And it has become WHAT I DO. It’s not the only thing I do. But it is what WE do too. Ted and me. It’s our thing. It would be weird not to. It’s hard to recall a past where Ted and me weren’t aiming for albums because that’s what it was for us, always.
I had a band since late 86, he had his since then too…And then he joined Darkthrone and albums are what we do. Having completed a song makes me euphoric, just like the old days. And I want to record it immediately.
When I make a song and do NOT want to record it, that’s when I should probably think about my life. Having said that, a lyric from the metal scene that most defines my own mood and a lot of my lyrics as well must be NO WILL TO LIVE by possessed, 1986. It’s not all cupcakes and glitter.”
LTW: Being a maximally independent artist and signed to an indie-label, do you follow post-production stages for the record release or your work gets finished after a record gets mixed ?
Fenriz: “Darkthrone is now a tiny industry. Why? I reckon our revenue/turnover keep 4 people alive except ourselves. It has to do if the percentages are right (laughter). There are a lot of emails back and forth on business decisions. But a lot has to do with layout and whatnot, merch… Really, I am happy only creating and recording.
The real work is all the emails, including all the interviews, an interview will drain me for the rest of the day. There is no post production that we do not monitor. When the album is mixed – we are suddenly hands on.
I will try to steer the mix into directions I want, if I think it is lost. I want it to be cool to be in the studio with me. But when I receive mixes, I will write long detailed emails back with lists of changes. I get worried and neurotic (laughs)!
And then when all is settled – I will try to guide the mastering process as well. It was clear from day one with this band that you will not remix or tamper with the sound. I mean it is out of control enough as it is. And what do you think people would say if we Disneyfied our sound? There is no need for polishing, the whole world is singing the White Stripes riff and that record is lo-fi as hell. It makes Darkthrone sound like Celine Dion! (Laughs) Yeah but no but yeah but no…”
Eternal Hails… is out now via Peaceville Records.
Photo credits: Jørn Steen, Ester Segarr.
Interview by Dan Volohov. Find his author’s archive here.