DARKTHRONE’S FENRIZ: THE METALSUCKS INTERVIEW
When one thinks of black metal OGs Darkthrone, most likely, the image of a gangly guy with a candelabra comes to mind, and with it, black metal’s trappings and faults. But, like true originators, the band molded the style they helped create to their liking, moving from the raw mist of tremolo picking on Transylvanian Hunger to the (relatively more) refined old school black metal on 2004’s Sardonic Wrath to the anthemic and (dare I say) kinda fun blackened crust punk of their excellent last two releases, F.O.A.D and Dark Thrones and Black Flags. Despite being an integral part of one of the most important movements in metal’s history 20 years ago, Darkthrone are still putting out some of their best work right now, still raw and confrontational and, most importantly, still not giving a fuck about what people want them to play. Punk rock has always lurked underneath the band’s best material, but its attitude of individuality is what fuels Darkthrone and sets them apart from most of their frosty peers.
Part of the band’s artistic growth could most likely be due to its distillation to its core: Guitarist/vocalist Nocturno Culto and drummer/lyricist/occasional vocalist Fenriz have been the band‘s sole members for quite a while. The latter member has become a celebrity in his own right in the metal world through assembling the occasional compilation (his latest, Trapped Under Vice II, a collection of obscure trad metal and prog, is pretty fucking great) and generally coming across as a funny dude with a broad knowledge of metal by way of entertaining interviews. One of those interviews was recently with MetalSucks via email, where Fenriz discussed his band’s future (new album in February!), his approach to vocal work both in Darkthrone and his long gestating doom metal side project Fenriz’ Red Planet, his thoughts on production, and how “true” black metal was just black metal back when they started.
[Editor’s note: English is not Fenriz’s first language, but in the hopes of maintaining as much of what he wanted to say the way he wanted to say it, we did very little editing to his e-mail responses. In other words, we sometimes sacrificed proper grammar for the sake of keeping the interview interesting.]
Nah, actually in the ’00s we did one album every 1.5 years, and the new one now (CIRCLE THE WAGONS) comes exactly 1.5 years after the last one (DARK THRONES AND BLACK FLAGS) again, that being in February 2010. This enables us to start the new decade with HEAVY METAL.
Was the move towards more of a blackened crust punk sound on the last few Darkthrone albums intentional, a natural progression, better reflection of your and Nocturno Culto’s mindsets, or both?
All of the above, but the main thing was that we got our own portable studio, and suddenly a wind of freedom at the Darkthrone speedway-court took a stronghold. Fuck the cobwebs. Also, when we started writing more songs, not only riffs and lyrics apart from the songs, things obviously changed, and so it came to be that i started once again to do vocals in Darkthrone, and the way it works out now is the best – pretty much 50/50 songwriting and instrumentation and also we sing on our own songs – i these days have 110% fulfillment in writing and singing my songs in Darkthrone, everything else would be fake, so that’s why I don’t and CAN NOT do guest vocals for others, I am 110% committed to my own anger and force in my songs now. no shit.
Has how you write music and lyrics for Darkthrone changed over the years?
See above + “Yeah, anyone with half an ear can hear the change and as usual it’s going against the grain.” STILL, in many respects we pick up where we left in 1988, cuz then we followed the deaththrashing road we were doing, but gave up the epic metalpunk thing. The last 5 years has more or less been taking that up again.
What’s your take on the fetishization of “true” black metal, both by fans of the music and those interested in the controversy surrounding it?
There was no need for TRUE in the 80s, it was when those misunderstandings of black metal arose in early 90s that there was a need for it. Up to ’92 we simply played BLACK METAL, then when all the nerds starting “crashing the party” it was time to get some more categories up on the table.
Do you think black metal still has something to offer today?
Yeah, but never the standard bands “so called” underground hypes. Instead I like VOMITOR, FAUSTCOVEN, OLD, POWER FROM HELL, etc. Basically I like the styles up to ’89, I like some early 90s styles but very seldom the bands that copy early 90s.
You sing a lot in Fenriz’ Red Planet. How come you don’t do more of that?
As it is a one man band, also engineered and recorded by myself, it is no shock that I sing in it, too. I started that first in ’89 with a one-off doom metal track as the PILGRIM SANDS project. Then started it up again in ’92, ’93 with FENRIZ’ RED PLANET but then I started in Valhall again and canned that project, it was the beginning of a solo doom metal album for Peaceville, but I could just give the songs, or most of ’em, to VALHALL anyways. I had enough solo projects with Isengard and Neptune Towers at the time anyhow. I did vocals ever since DAY ONE in my music career… but seldom the same type of vocals. It’s supposed to mirror your heart and soul, that’s why I also hate copycat 90s black metal bands with flat vocals, they do it just cuz it’s “supposed” to sound like that – but when we started doing it, no one else really did it, it was Dead and then old Bathory that had it. In ’91 those vocals were RISKY and powerful and worthwhile and RARE, so therefore worth something. Five years later it was BUBKUS or whatcha call it… hahaha.
I started making comps in my youth, when I was around 14, I guess… I mean tapes… and when I finally got a computer in 2005 (it was only to get off all the phone interviews) I realized it was GOLD to burn CD comps. The ten years before I’d mostly DJed and made tapes… but CD-comps were getting my stuff around quick and then people wanted me finally to do podcast-comps, and that gets the LESSON spread very efficiently.
How do i go about? With PASSION. The same as I did when I was a kid, but then I maybe had around 50 records only. Now I have over 10,000 music titles from all times and styles, so I am rather versatile, hehe.
What 3 bands should everyone listen to right now?
BASTARDATOR, BLACKHOLICUS, OBLITERATION. We have over 57,000 friends on our MySpace, and every sixth day they are all being served: another BAND OF THE WEEK there, mostly pure underground, only old sound, active killer bands so it’s better to go there and check all the gems.
You’re an outspoken proponent of unpolished, underground production quality. Is this just for bands you’re involved with, or in general? Does a slick, modern production sound turn you off of an album?
First it was obvious ones like DEF LEPPARD and ZZ TOP having too modern a sound. Then King Diamond, after the fantastic Mercyful Fate albums, [started to] sounded sterile. Then the NOISE RECORDS bands, topped off by the horrible modern sound of RELEASE FROM AGONY with Destruction. Then I got more and more freaked out, I was skeptical about the second Carcass album, the English licensed version of MACABRE’s debut Grim Reality had enhanced bass drums, very bad taste, wasn’t their fault but a SIGN OF THE TIMES. The worst was Blessed are the Sick with Morbid Angel, the demo and Abominations album was what I liked, not the stupid bass drums of modernity. So I have fought against modern metal sound over 20 years now.
And underground sound… well, it was overground in the 70s. But it was pushed back into underground the last 20 years and more. All hail those who choose ORGANIC sound. Remember, if it’s raw and lies in PLASTIC, it is DEAD. Raw music should have raw sound, not plastic, ’cause then it’s dead meat.
Still, I like the second WATCHTOWER album, there are exceptions to the rule.
Only Transilvanian Hunger has the TH production. I know cuz I made it, played it, engineered it and recorded it. It was a change already with the album after, Panzerfaust. I try to get the RIGHT sound for my songs, not most clear or most ugly. The RIGHT.I have mostly trouble with the production on our first album Soulside Journey recorded in ’90, but we had NO CHOICE but to get that sound. But we quickly learned…
What have you learned as a drummer over the course of your career? What advice would you have for metal and black metal drummers?
I am not a drummer, I played guitar before and that’s what one need to make metal songs. I don’t give a fuck about “musicians,” I have tried hard to UN-LEARN drumming since 1993, and now it’s a NERVE when I play (I play around three hours a year, just to rehearse and record our songs that I always have in my head), it’s not EASY and I’m not overqualified. The most boring drumming I know is from people that are overqualified.
How have you managed to work with Nocturno Culto for as long as you have?
One need to keep DISTANCE from me, and I from others. I mean I tried to be social from 1990-2005, but I needed beer to be “Uncle Fenriz” and it was mainly shallow, so after that I returned to the underground, mostly unabomber style. I mean, not hanging out at the bars of Oslo rock city, but doing usual UG work mainly apart from all my other chores. Also, we didn’t play live much, and do not do it [at all now]. That’s a dead certain conflict raiser, better LEARN FROM HISTORY, huh?
Also, we have day jobs, so our life’s work DARKTHRONE doesn’t become a job.
What are the chances of Darkthrone playing out again?
When more of the old 80s bands start taking RISKS and doesn’t play it safe (forget it, it’s us and AUTOPSY, the rest are just thinking boring Q U A L I T Y.).
But my religion is NOT playing live. It started with aversion in the late 80s, and then it snowballed. Now I hate so much with it that I could write several novels about anti-live “performance.”
Will the next Darkthrone record be reminiscent of the last one? What’s next for the band?
Well, y’all think in ALBUMS, we figure it’s more like a LONG TUBE OF SONGS since we started in ’87… only we just swoop ’em up now and then when we have enough for an album. New one is even more HEAVY METAL/SPEED METAL-PUNK than the previous one.
Next for the band? I had 41 emails when I logged on. Now I have 40. Drat.