Black Metal Expert Finn Håkon Rødland Discusses His Latest Art Exhibition, Projects, and Collection
As a curator, writer, and authority on what’s cool, Finn Håkon Rødland is what you could call the leading expert on “True Black Metal.” He possesses the most important collection documenting the history of Mayhem and Norwegian black metal. We would be less surprised by the sudden appearance of a chimera than by the old and new objects in his mind-blowing archive, which includes demos, records, letters, photos, stage attire, instruments, and a laundry list of other items.
The fact that Rødland meticulously chronicles and preserves the history of black metal is something for which we should all be extremely grateful. Rødland focuses on getting the story right, straight from the sources, without a personal agenda or the old-fashioned embellishment often found in old interviews from back in the days. Although Rødland’s interest in music is quite broad, the Norwegian groups that he tends to focus on have created the most emotionally and culturally impactful albums imaginable. Not only has Rødland been a massive help to household names, but he also spreads awareness of other phenomenal bands that have not received due recognition.
Rødland definitely wins our award for the best taste in music. His opinions and approach to black metal are worlds above those of other authors. In the sense that he has an eye for what is timeless, he is a bit like the Metalion of our era, except he doesn’t have a fanzine — he puts together extremely professional box sets and so much more. Rødland is constantly interviewing legends and contributing his resources to monumental projects. His heroic dedication, ceaseless enthusiasm, and spirit of generosity are bound to inspire you. We thank him for his service to black metal and were honored to have had the opportunity to speak with him.
You presented the exhibition that you curated, “De Mysteriis Dom. Sathanas,” at Grieghallen during Beyond the Gates on August 5 and 6. The photos of your event were incredible! Could you please tell me what went into preparing this exhibition and what it was like to finally share it with festival-goers?
Yeah, so Torgrim [Øyre], the organizer, contacted me quite early on and wanted to discuss doing some kind of exhibition because Mayhem were supposed to play in Grieghallen. I immediately accepted because of my respect for Beyond the Gates and Bergen, but also the concept of Mayhem in Grieghallen, which was the ultimate experience possible, in my opinion. Also, I immediately felt Torgrim and I could work well together. I had been approached by several festivals over the years and stuff like that in Norway, but I really haven’t been comfortable doing an exhibition. And that meant that I didn’t actually have to bring one-of-a-kind items because that concerns me — having the actual items there, the relics. I would be terrified of losing them. It had to be on a national museum level for me to bring my stuff to an exhibition.
But then, Torgrim explained that he could do a photo exhibition. He knew I had been working on De Mysteriis Dom. Sathanas, the box set, for a few years. We spent some time figuring out how to do it because when it comes to Mayhem, you have all these different eras: You have the Dead period, you have the De Mysteriis Dom. Sathanas period, then you have the Maniac and Blasphemer era. We soon understood that we had to narrow it down and pretty much just focus on those years surrounding the recording. But I also felt it was natural to look a bit backwards in time and include some of the live photos as well as some of the photos from when Dead was part of Mayhem because they played several of the [De Mysteriis Dom. Sathanas] songs already back in Jessheim on February 3, 1990. I live in Jessheim, so it’s just 10 minutes to go there [Folkets Hus]. Then, on February 28, 1990, they did the same in Sarpsborg. And then, in Zeitz, Annaberg, Leipzig, and in İzmir, Turkey… So, it was natural to incorporate some of those historical aspects, including some Dead picks and band photos from that time, but the strong focus was on the recording session period. Of course, it was challenging to find photos from this time because there really are not that many.
During my work on De Mysteriis Dom. Sathanas, the box set, I randomly talked to Svenn Tore Mauseth, a mutual friend of Snorre Ruch. He said that Snorre actually took those portraits — the faces that were used on the [inside of the] album cover. I thought they were lost because I had talked to Snorre many times, but I had never asked him specifically about those photos. But then, Svenn Tore told me that Snorre should have those. I called Snorre immediately and… “Well, it might happen that it might be,” he said. Then, he talked to his father. Just the day after or something, he called me back and said that he found a whole stack of negatives. So, he sent it to me. I suddenly had the whole complete series, and Snorre was the photographer of these iconic photos! That was an unknown fact until then, and this also reflects how humble Snorre is. He never made a point about it to anyone until I asked about it. That was the backbone, in my opinion, of the exhibition as well as the box set because we could now see the complete series of the portrait pictures used in the original release.
And then, I would also say that a couple of years ago, Attila contacted me. He had found a lot of negatives from his trip to Norway. He had used some of those earlier on — 15 years ago when he did the Life Eternal  CD release. But he found a lot of new ones. I was so hopeful that he had a lot of good pictures. Fortunately, it’s a huge stack of photos. So, he sent me the scans of everything, and I developed the pictures from the files to get a feel of them. There are mostly Twin Peak-ish or David Lynch-esque tourist pictures, you know — roads, buildings, mountains. But some of them were from Grieghallen. So, I asked Attila: “Is it okay if I use a couple of those in the exhibition?” He accepted. He’s a really nice guy, so there wasn’t a discussion. He just said: “Yes,” or “That’s no problem. Of course, you can use them.” So, I was then able to have two exclusive, never-before-seen photos in the exhibition. I liked having something new to bring.
So, yeah, regarding the exhibition, it shows 15-ish pictures. We thought it was a good idea to combine it with this guided tour with Pytten in Grieghallen. And the people who bought tickets to his tour would end up at my exhibition. So, in practical terms, I joined the guided tour and was a wingman to Pytten of sorts and also Tarjei Strøm, a good friend who was the facilitator of this guided tour. Then, the people just ended up at the exhibition, and Pytten was there. I talked them through the pictures and what they were seeing, when they were taken, and the history behind them. I feel that people really appreciated the exhibition, and they had a lot of questions. I felt that there were so many questions and people wanting to talk to me that it was hard to treat everybody as well as they deserved. There were people everywhere and especially on the last day. This was the day after Mayhem had played. During the final guided tour, Pytten was a bit emotional because he hadn’t seen concerts with Enslaved, Emperor, and Mayhem for many years.
I had told Attila [Csihar] that he should try to come and see the exhibition. I suggested that he could join the guided tour with Pytten and hang around and kind of be a participant. But also obviously, if he came, he would have to talk as well. But you know, these artists, they are really in the moment. So, I called him. He was coming from the hotel, and he was supposed to be there when the guided tour started. But… he had met Teloch on his way out of the hotel and they were talking about the gig from last night. I really had to say: “Attila you, you know, you have to come now. You have 20 minutes left. You have to come now…” — “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Sorry, sorry, sorry.” And then he finally came at the end of the guided tour with Pytten. He was fantastic! The people there — they couldn’t believe their eyes. I think it took a couple of seconds to understand that it was actually Attila standing there. It developed into a nice meet-and-greet. He shared a lot of stories and then we walked down to the exhibition, and everybody got to take photos with Attila and Pytten also, of course. For me personally, it was a really fine moment — having Attila there and my family. He met them, Pytten, and everybody. That was a really good experience. It was fun seeing Attila so happy and smiling. I think he really enjoyed it.
The exhibition was also open for the people attending the concerts at Grieghallen, of course.
Congratulations on the upcoming release of the Ulver box that features your contributions as well. For the sake of readers, I’ll mention that you’ve also worked on several Mayhem box sets: A Season of Blasphemy for Season of Mist, which focuses on the Blasphemer era; Pure Fucking Armageddon, which just came out on September 16 via Peaceville Records; Cursed in Eternity, also for Peaceville; and Mysteriis Dom. Sathanas. I’m so amazed that you spent two years putting together the 96-page booklet for De Mysteriis Dom. Sathanas. It’s phenomenal! That must have really required a herculean effort. You were obviously already an expert going into it [De Mysteriis Dom. Sathanas], so I was wondering what you might have learned that surprised you during the process.
I had done the Cursed in Eternity [box] with Peaceville first. I was so proud of that box set and capturing that important era of Dead. But I knew going into it that it was going to be my most important work. I’m doing this for free, that is something I would like to underline. I don’t earn any money for my work on these projects for hours invested or on sales. This is true dedication to the music and the history of the bands. Especially for Mayhem! With all of those bootlegs floating around, I thought that we needed to take control of their legacy and work on the old live recordings and rehearsals, documenting their history as best as I could. Hence, the box sets cover each era of the band. Some fans seem to believe that the bands are getting rich by releasing music and box sets like these, but I can tell you, they are certainly not getting rich. This is not a Metallica industry.
So, I had a meeting with Voices of Wonder and explained to them what I had done in the past and outlined what I had in mind for De Mysteriis Dom. Sathanas. Voices of Wonder really gave me free rein. The main guy there is Ketil Sveen, but my contact person was Petter Krogstie. We had a really good-good partnership. They were a bit concerned because my project was just kind of growing all the time. They had never done something like this before — interviewing all of these people, all of those pictures, a lot of vinyl, and everything. I said: “This is going to be sold out regardless of how many we print.” So, they just trusted me. Then, I had really good help from Christian Moen, who I always include in my projects. He is very knowledgeable and has a good eye for aesthetics. Metalion interviewed Erik [Danielsson] of Watain for me, and Paweł Kaczyński interviewed Enslaved and Nergal of Behemoth. I talked with Attila, Hellhammer, Snorre Ruch, Necrobutcher, Nocturno Culto of Darkthrone, Bård “Faust” Eithun of Emperor and Djevel, Shagrath and Silenoz of Dimmu Borgir, Tore Bratseth of Old Funeral, Sverd of Arcturus and Mortem, Dr. Best of Mysticum, Pytten, and Kvitrim of Djevel, Mare, Dark Sonority, Vemod, etc. I’m really happy we got all the people who got to be interviewed.
So, when it comes to surprises, I knew that in some ways Snorre had been involved. But during the process, I understood he was really involved in the album — not when they made the musical parts because he was not in Mayhem at the time, though Euronymous did use some of the riffs Snorre had given him in the period that preceded Snorre’s participation in the band. Snorre was in fact with Mayhem in the studio when Attila came to Norway to do the vocals. They rehearsed together. He was also the one who put together and sorted out all the lyrics from Dead because some of them were finished and everything was nice and tidy, but some of them were more like notes. He spent a lot of time on that. Again, he took the photos. Snorre was a fantastic photographer. He also drew the original sketch for the cover of De Mysteriis Dom. Sathanas, by the way. The next Mayhem album after De Mysteriis Dom. Sathanas was supposed to be based on a lot of the work that Snorre had already done. That was what I learned as well as some small stories looking back to when Dead died —
Ted, Nocturno Culto, came the day or a couple of days after because they didn’t have cell phones or email at the time: They had made this arrangement that he was going to drop by. Ted went there to pick up a copy of a demo tape. He said that when he arrived it was all a total mess there because the police had just picked up the body and left. Dead’s friends had been up there. You could see the blood-spatter outside where he had made the “first attempt” — cutting himself and then walking around the house kind of dragging his arm against the wall. So, those are some details that I found. I hadn’t heard that from Ted before, and I hadn’t read about it either. Having some eyewitness reflections on what actually happened was interesting.
What else? Pytten was fantastic to get to know too. I remember when I called him the first time. He obviously didn’t know who I was, but he gave me the chance to get to know him. We have had many good conversations, and I think he appreciates all of my strange questions about dates and events. He’s a really nice guy, and I am thankful for the trust he has shown in me. He has been extremely important, Pytten, for Norwegian black metal, you know, having worked with all these bands and helped them reach their potential in the studio. It’s very interesting learning how he approached every band and how different it was. So, when bands call and say that they want the Grieghallen sound, he refuses to work with them because he’s not doing that. You can’t come there and get the “Grieghallen” sound. You can go there and he will make the best out of your sound.
Last I heard, he closed his NRK-owned studio in Grieghallen a long time ago  but was still producing elsewhere. Is that still the case?
He is still active with some bands, but not in Grieghallen. It is too expensive to work there, so they work in different locations, and the final stages are done in a control room in Koengen.
Stay tuned for part two of our discussion with Finn Håkon Rødland. In the meantime, you can purchase Rødland’s Pure Fucking Armageddon box set, which comes with an 80-page book, at Peaceville Records’ website here. You can also find Rødland’s De Mysteriis Dom. Sathanas box at places like Napalm Records’ website. Pre-order the Ulver box, Trolsk Sortmetall 1993–1997, now.