The Cult Of Metal: Fenriz takes the floor… José Carlos Santos asks the questions…
Unexpectedly, after many years of exclusive dedication to Darkthrone, Fenriz is putting out an album of new Isengard songs, 25 years after the last studio album, Høstmørke, was released. When we say new, naturally it just means previously unheard, as these tracks – previously thought to be lost forever – have been unearthed from the Norwegian’s infamous archive of tapes filled with material recorded back in the day. Not that an excuse is ever needed to just go and have a good chat with Fenriz, but this seemed like a perfect reason to talk to our grand master of the underground once again.
JCS: So, first of all, give us a few more details on that hunt that you have been on for the last 25 years, that one track you thought was lost forever and then even thought you had dreamt all of of it. Was it indeed an Isengard track originally? And while we’re at it, could you give us a little glimpse of what exactly are your personal tape archives, and what other incredible treasures might lurk unheard therein? F: The only songs that were originally Isengard tracks were the ones on the 1989 demo. Then circa 1992 or ’93 I asked Peaceville if they were interested in releasing an album of various tracks I had recorded, and that demo was then included, plus a bunch of songs I had recorded. So Isengard was an outlet of my various styles, and most of what I kept recording. I was extremely active musically from the summer of 1987 until 1995 and recorded/played in various bands pretty much non-stop. I have not revisited the dungeon of self recorded tapes very often because it is CHAOS, there is no system. It is actually very frustrating. But Covid-19 gave me extra time this Spring, and I went all in and found heaps of stuff! It is true that I thought of many projects after the 1989 Spectres Over Gorgoroth demo, but many of them just ended up as the first Isengard album and this was what happened here with Vårjevndøgn as well. The anomaly is the second Isengard album, which was the second attempt, after the ’89 demo, at doing a purely Isengard project, but it was extremely different from the demo, so Isengard is a sort of deposit of my various styles – but not always. Ufff, it’s complicated. The tapes aren’t even archived by themselves, there are tapes among tapes, I have 40 years of cassettes and there is no real system. Arrrrgh! Somehow it is way easier to systemise other musical formats, but since I am a music maniac it tends to become too much, always, like my Spotify lists. It would be easier if i just liked a few musical styles, but as we all know, I am all over the place. There is not much more I want to release from those tapes now though, I think. The third Neptune Towers album, perhaps.
“I just always had a strong need to convey the power of metal and/or music itself, ever since I was little, and looking back at my life now, this has been one of its very few constant factors.”
As for the rest of the tracks that make up this “new” album, were they also lost/misplaced in that chaos, or was that just that first heavy metal track? Do you think they go well together, were they ever meant to be on the same album in the first place, or did you take any steps for them to be more coherent together? Did the first Isengard album go well together? HELL NO, hahahha! It was a complete jumble-up of all different styles and so is Vårjevndøgn. The Red Planet stuff should also be released as Isengard as a track like ‘Our Lord Will Come’ (Pentagram (USA)-inspired) is on there, so all the doom stuff is Isengard as well, it was ridiculous of me to have my doom stuff channelled as three different projects – but I wasn’t thinking very clearly after 1989. I started drinking and working shifts, and that is a bad combination with what I now know, that our frontal lobes aren’t fully grown until the age of 25. During 1990-95 I was often like a manic idiot for sure! The steps I take to make a track list fit are the same I have for Darkthrone, a whole bunch of various tracks that I try to put together most sensibly. There should probably be some research into how artists choose the track order for albums, it’s interesting and I always thought I was doing it out of my own head, but is your mind really your own? Wouldn’t us humans be inspired by all other albums we’ve heard and thus the track order? HALP!
What were the main influences that played a part on your writing of these songs, if you recall? How would you actually describe the music on Vårjevndøgn? Which leads us to the most important part of the liner notes, inspirations… Candlemass, Pentagram, Revelation, Agent Steel, Rigid Domain, Black Sabbath both ’70s and ’80s, early Helloween, and there’s a punk song too which reminds me a bit of Puke from Sweden. Ebba Grøn and even Bad Religion, and there is a mantra which I cannot for the life of me find out what inspired me to do, there’s many riffs where I am clueless as to what the inspiration could be. But this was the gist of it, I guess. I would describe it as archaeological cult metal, the working title for the album project was actually Cult Metal.
Would you care to shed some light on the meaning of the title (“Spring equinox”, yes?), and how it connects to the songs themselves? Were you able to gather an overall “theme”, so to speak, out of this set of songs? You are describing a concept album. Most albums aren’t, and as you know, the general trade today for artists is just releasing singles and compiling them as albums. We did that in Darkthrone, specifically with the cult metal trilogy (F.O.A.D., Dark Thrones And Black Flags and Circle The Wagons) but the title comes from the fact that the two previous “albums” had a Winter (Vinterskugge) and Autumn (HØSTmørke) thing going, so I just continued that with Spring (VÅRjevndøgn). If I make a fourth album it will be logical for it to have a Summer title.
“I would describe it as archaeological cult metal, the working title for the album project was actually Cult Metal.”
What is your feeling when you hear these tracks today? Do you still identify, do you still think they represent you in any way? Is any of it still Fenriz-2020, or is it a bit like meeting a younger you on a time machine? It is draining to hear all my mistakes, but it also gives me energy to hear all the parts that work well. It is the same with anything I’ve done – seldomly am I content with a lot of it, but sometimes it all clicks. It doesn’t matter what I say, now that it is finally released, I don’t “own” it anymore and people make up their own thoughts about it. I just always had a strong need to convey the power of metal and/or music itself, ever since I was little, and looking back at my life now, this has been one of its very few constant factors. In the end, when I hear these tracks, it is like looking in the mirror. It ain’t pretty but it is ME.
“In the end, when I hear these tracks, it is like looking in the mirror. It ain’t pretty but it is ME.”
As you’ve mentioned before, you’ve gone from Isengard to Neptune Towers or the Red Planet, but there has been little to no follow-up on those things throughout your musical trajectory as you seem to have concentrated mostly on Darkthrone from a certain point on. Why is this, you think? Was it a youthful you exploring all directions at once until you found the one you’re most natural and comfortable with? Do you still ever get an urge to get up and ride any of these old horses? I have been on the verge, for many years, of doing another Isengard, but I’ve wanted full focus on Darkthrone since 2002. What style it would be, or what styles, I don’t know. I am thinking it wouldn’t be very fast material, I enjoy playing drums in a slow style mostly. I kept pouring out music from my own head since I started Black Death in 1986 until 1995. Then I got burnt out in 1996 and depression in 1998, and since then I’ve been adamant in bringing even more music INTO my head, and stop pouring it out always. So I started concentrating just on Darkthrone. I think Ted writes steadily in Darkthrone and I am the one always running off in different directions, haha!
I suppose it’s the question du jour, but has this whole virus situation changed anything in your overall music plans? I suspect social distancing and avoiding crowds of humans aren’t hard things for you and Ted to deal with, so hopefully the next steps of Darkthrone weren’t too changed by this whole thing? Hahaha, yeah, I think this is a question that would be better for all other bands than Darkthrone. If people don’t know how Darkthrone works, it is like this: we stay at home, and every two or three years we meet and record an album. So we are Covid safe and also one of the most environmentally safe bands on the planet, as there is almost no travelling whatsoever and I never even had a driver’s license either!
“So I made the first song [for the next Dartkthrone album] recently and it feels like having a reason for being on this planet. It feels like doing what I was meant to be doing.”
So what can we expect from that camp in the (hopefully near) future? Well, I started getting riffs around February 2019 and by Summer 2019 I had 23 riffs (I had 12 riffs on the previous album, Old Star) and all the lyrics finished. Then it has been waiting on Ted, who has finally started now. This leads to what I have said in many interviews – I tend to scrap all old riffs and instead make new ones, because I am more stoked doing fresh material in the studio. So I made the first song recently AND I WAS SO HAPPY, as happy as Larry, as happy as with the first song I wrote for Old Star (‘The Hardship Of The Scots‘), and it feels like having a reason for being on this planet. It feels like doing what I was meant to be doing.
Thanks for the chat, Fenriz. It was super, and I hope that the rest of the music people on the planet can enjoy live music again.