From one-time cold black metal to crusty heavy metal, Darkthrone have effortlessly skipped between the many sub-genres of metal music to carve their own legacy into the minds of horn-raising, mosh-obsessed laudits of metallic debauchery. Their sound might have changed, and so might their perspectives, but there’s one constant that the duo – comprised of Fenriz and Nocturno Culto – will always have; their burning passion and undying love for heavy metal music. With album number 15 around the corner, I interviewed Darkthrone multi-instrumentalist and co-founder, Fenriz about the band’s newest creation, ‘The Underground Resistance’.
How was it recording ‘The Underground Resistance’ in comparison to previous album ‘Circle The Wagons’?
Fenriz: Same procedure as the last four albums actually. Whenever we had a song ready each we sent SMS to each other and Kjella (who owns the house with the room where I have my drum kit) and then we set a date and Ted hauls Necrohell II Studios in there and we learn each other’s songs and record them.
As a title, it suggests that there’s a collective of people discontented, perhaps not only at the manufactured and plastic ideals of mainstream music, but also at society. Would you agree? What does the title ‘The Underground Resistance’ truly mean to the band?
Fenriz: It’s just the long fight about separating the daft bands from the great ones. For instance in 1986 you would have Mötley Crue in the charts but we listened to Crumbsuckers instead. It’s also a personal nod of mine to the Detroit techno collective [of the same name]. There have been hints on other albums as well; on ‘Ravishing Grimness’ and ‘Plaguewielder’. But of course, it’s that long battle, and especially when it looked bad for metal in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, and the struggle back from there. Half of the big albums in 2012 seem to have organic sound (the UG fight) but ten years ago the metal realm was overrun by plastic sound.
If we are to take the album title’s message from a musical standpoint, do you see any other bands around you that are a part of this continued ‘underground resistance’ so to speak?
Fenriz: Check the Band of The Week band list on my blog (http://thebandoftheweek.blogspot.co.uk/) or the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/bandoftheweekblog). There are a couple of hundred bands there, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. But I don’t know what bands sound like us now, and I’ve heard a lot. I really thought [about] someone to compare us to for many years now, but for me it’s impossible.
Undoubtedly, Darkthrone is an entity unafraid of musical experimentation; whatever sounds you explore, you make your own. How do you think ‘The Underground Resistance’ fits into the Darkthrone discography? Would you see it as a continuation of ‘Circle The Wagons’?
Fenriz: Yes I would. For my own part, it was strange to find out that I suddenly made some Celtic Frost parts again [in] many minutes of ‘Leave No Cross Unturned’. To me, that was not the direction I was going in at all. But that style is embedded in me, so when it was there again, it was just to go with it. But it’s still the 1985 sound, only Celtic anno ’85 is far from the style of Agent Steel anno ‘85 or Maiden or Gotham City, but I still try to make it work.
It seems Darkthrone not only have a huge respect for metal music from the ‘80s; ranging from Bathory and Celtic Frost to Motorhead and Iron Maiden, but you have also paid homage to it in songs. It’s an obvious passion that runs in the blood of you both. To what extent is Darkthrone a nostalgic band?
Fenriz: Here we have a win-win situation for those who actually like us; if they like us because we’re just sounding old or if they like us because they think we make the old sound fresh – it’s still fantastic to me! But if one should Google around to see who I am in metal, it’s clear that I am both; both following new fresh sounds (probably other bands making old stuff sound new like Pig Eyes or No Future or Beastmilk) and plain old stuff. Or just new bands making old stuff. OK, so I’m all three then! [laughs]
In the past, you’ve both acknowledged your love for bands from the ‘80s. In this sense, is Darkthrone mining from the same cave of inspiration, but it’s just a separate section of the cave?
Fenriz: It seems so, but I can’t speak for Ted – he just makes metal while he plays guitar. We grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s and I’ve seldom had a riff or a drum beat that was not typical for this era, even late ‘60s that I also grew up with. When I make a whole album like ‘Transilvanian Hunger’ in one beat, it was still taken from Bathory albums from mid-to-late ‘80s, so I’m good.
Jack Control from Severed Head of State mastered the record in his Enormous Door Studios. What did you want him to bring to the album?
Fenriz: He wanted it! I’ve been in touch with him for a while, since before he made his studio obviously. From a time I was a fan of World Burns To Death and Severed and I didn’t know if he liked Darkthrone, I just knew he liked Venom, for instance. And then it turns out he’s a big fan of Celtic Frost, and I think he kind of ‘Morbid Taled-up’ our sound on this album. Frankly he EQ’ed my drums to a place I’ve wanted them to be since I put my ear goggles on the half of my ears to get that phat sound back in ‘89-93, when I rehearsed drums the most. So I’m all giddy about the drum sound for once. There’s an organic punch there that we stayed away from but would have wanted if we – as we should have had but didn’t have resources for – got a personal studio in 1988.
You’ve used a piece of art by Jim Fitzpatrick for the album; an artist who made countless pieces of art for Thin Lizzy and even did Manilla Road’s ‘Mark Of The Beast’ cover. What did you want to capture for this Darkthrone artwork?
Fenriz: It was the mighty Dylan Hughes that found the image and pasted the Darkthrone logo and title on it and Ted wanted it in brown and bob’s your uncle!
Obviously with hindsight, it’s easier to see what impact music can have on the long term. Darkthrone was highly influential in shaping black metal in the ‘90s. How do you view your own legacy?
Fenriz: At least we got people into Bathory and Celtic Frost again; not many listened to them in 1991. Also we did a lot of Motorhead grooves and Hellhammer grooves into the scene which ended up as black ‘n roll and super bands like Rust from Sweden (10” and full album out) are still ruling in that vein. HELL YEAH!
Regardless of metallic style, the band has remained rooted to a number of themes. One of them is anti-religion. ‘Leave No Cross Unturned’ definitely shows you still have the vigour to don an anti-religion message. Do you think this is something that will always be a part of Darkthrone?
Fenriz: There was just something terribly lame and provoking about it that made me… you know when in Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy they are forced to listen to the terrible poems? That made some dude gnaw his own knee-cap off to survive? That’s the initial feeling organized religion gave me since I was little. So there’s no problem tapping into that vein at any given time. One expands as a person, but some shit stays the same. That’s just the way of the world, innit?
How would you describe your own spiritualism/religious faith now?
Fenriz: That’s for the lyrics to show! Apart from that it’s as personal as it ever was. But when I feel the goosebumps coming on as a result of the universal language (music) that’s as spiritual as you can get, in my humble… [laughs] opinion.
We know you’re crazy about music and this might open a tin of worms but… what music have you been enjoying recently?
Fenriz: Haha! I just listened to ‘Where Legend Began’ AGAIN by English Dogs while going to the post office to collect ordered vinyl. This time it was the Pig Eyes vinyl and Morbid Angel ‘Altars Of Madness’. I don’t know why, but in 1989 I started buying vinyls and CDs; not only vinyls. I think it was because I liked the CD for I could put one on, go to bed and go to sleep. It took me a while to sleep so I didn’t like to put vinyls on like that. I could have put on tapes. So it’s a lame excuse. I continued buying both formats. Maybe I also liked the new format? I mean CDs? Gross. But I was even into minidisc a while there, so let everyone know I am willing to try new things, it seems. But it’s been back to vinyl for a while now. It’s more of a lifestyle. That means I’ve got to buy a lot of vinyls that I also bought on CD back in the day. Grueling. Anyway, before the English Dogs album that we both love here in Darkthrone, I listened to the latest Resident Advisor (electronic/dance magazine) podcast from Mano Le Tough (excellent) and the new Year Of The Goat album. That was pretty much it for today, as I had to do a lot of email work and interviews.
Tape, vinyl or CD? And why?
Fenriz: Vinyl obviously. CDs are as out here in Scandi now as vinyl was in 1990; that might be a sign of something strange. But we’ve all been complaining about cover art being too small on CDs and the return of vinyl is most welcome. Anyway Darkthrone released LPs all throughout the ‘90s and ‘00s, so it’s finally our time to shine! [laughs] Also, I like to DJ with CDs so as to not wreck vinyls in the inevitable drunken splendour. Furthermore I transfer my vinyls to wav files and then burn them on CDs, which makes for a very good sound. But I am not 100% anything; nothing in this world is, so there are many exceptions to this format thing. I’ve got to hear music on mp3 players, so even with phat headsets, I usually hear music in somewhat degraded quality. SO SUE ME!
What plans do you have for 2013?
Fenriz: Playing three soccer cups, getting more music, going to holiday in Travemünde, DJ’ing and drinking with other true metal-heads (many 30-year anniversaries for cool albums this year), getting more cross country skiing and tent trips done. Nothing out of the ordinary really. Marte and me just bought an apartment together but we’d like to live in Kolbotn in a house. But that’s expensive! And it takes time to be a house owner and I’m not exactly a handyman! Damnit!
‘The Underground Resistance’ is out 25th February on Peaceville.
Interview by Calum Robson.
Photo Credit: Lars Eivind Bones.