Pizza, Rally & Black Metal
“The last time I looked in the mirror I slashed my own mirror and afterwards directed a middle finger at myself. Yeah, I was feeling that way one and a half hours ago but I’m feeling slightly better now.”
Usually known as the perennial joker, Fenriz begins the interview on a somewhat surprising note. Judging by these sombre words he spits forward, it’s no wonder Darkthrone found new conviction on Hate Them, something more forceful than anything they’ve done in a long time. The drummer isn’t wide of the mark in noting that for black metal hate is definitely a strong motor. Sporting very raw et grim vokills by Culto, awesome drum sound and some great seventh-grader drumming from the ex-postal worker, sometimes appearing as a cross between the songwriting aesthetic of “The Beast” and the overall sound of the likes of “En as i dype skogen”, Hate Them shot towards the stars after the bland ninth elpee, Plaguewielder. At the feet of Hate Them, you almost feel like yelling “black fucking metal!” and romping into the nearest forest with a portable CD player, an axe, a gallon of gasoline and a box of matches. Almost, I said.
The gravity of Fenriz’ introductory words soon vanishes into rampages of laughter. Not bullshitting when he’s supposed to bullshit, the universal laws of reverse tell Norway’s One and Only Black Punk Dude is obviously not going to be all serious-minded for the rest of the interview. What’s new?
Fenriz explains the pinches of salt: “On the one hand everything is really dead serious, but when I was asked to start to do interviews I was thinking this was going to take up a lot of my time—for instance, today I woke up at 5:30, worked a whole day through and then came here. I’m thinking, am I going to sit here like some kid from Ukraine who’s been into black metal for a year and go ‘Nnnngghhh, nnnnggghhh’? No, fuck that, I’m going to enjoy myself. So I always come up with some bullshit, you know. But if you look at the product, it’s serious. I could make a pizza, juggle it around, smile and do jokes, but that pizza has to be really good. Whatever I do around the pizza, that’s just some extra. The pizza, the product, has to be bona fide.
“In black metal you have to be careful in using happiness and then time it fucking well, because if you look at it as figuring some sort of picturesque art, you don’t insert a clown in a Munch picture.”
The product that is Darkthrone originates from the refrigerated kingdoms of black metal but it can be argued to have its warmer, ‘funnier’, more ‘drinkable’ side, as was first illustrated by their Hellhammer-type beer can BM attacks and then certainly by the crustier side of The Cult Is Alive and F.O.A.D. Fenriz objects to this classification, reminding that “it’s possible to drink without having fun”. Very well.
We’ve established that black metal is commonly serious. According to Fenriz (as well as some other moron—see page 28), it also has the double standard of being universal and exclusive at the same time. Black metal and Darkthrone amount to a whole throng of things.
“It has always been universal,” the drummer says of black metal. “For me, black metal is about the feeling but I always said in 1990, when we were rehearsing the A Blaze in the Northern Sky album and I had already gone on with the black metal feeling for one or one and a half years, that this is so fucking unique I doubt that more than 1,500 people will ever understand it. And I don’t think there’s more people out there today; an album can sell 100,000 copies but there’s still just 1,500 people that get what this shit is about.
“The kids sometimes think that music is a competition—even older people think that way, they’re discussing who’s the best drummer in black metal when they never think what’s the most right style of drumming for black metal. Would you have jazz drumming on an old Bathory album? I don’t think so. Modern black metal almost always has jazz drumming on it. What the fuck happened?
“For me, the black metal mission ends with Darkthrone. I’m not trying to be a missionary or anything outside of what I can do with Darkthrone. I have to have a product that I can offer, meaning that it’s not only about theatrical stuff now. It’s easy to get at least Darkthrone and some other old school alternative to all the new school things. Apart from that, I like it the way it was in the 80s better because it was more global and individualistic. We had to go through a phase of like-mindedness before we could break out of it as stronger individuals.
“We’re basically doing eighties black metal, like you have bands today saying, ‘Okay, we’re doing one style and that’s old rock n’ roll’. If you want to play old rock n’ roll you want to be much like old rock n’ roll, haha. That’s what we do; we want to be the 80s, we always wanted to be the 80s, so we try to be that with the sound and everything around us. If I’m looking for a rock n’ roll album, I’m not going to go for one that’s been produced for 500,000 crowns. I’m going for one that’s been played in the basement.
“We’re not going anywhere with Darkthrone. We like it like that. We like base one; we’re all about that. We’re old-age Thin Lizzy or we’re Status Quo or we’re the Ramones. We’re not moving. And still, we have a genre, extreme metal, where we can mix between slow, fast and mid-paced stuff. That’s much more difficult with the Ramones stuff, which is basically all in one or two tempos. We have many different opportunities, and still we want to do just our stuff.
“If you really want the secret of analysing Darkthrone, you always think riffs, riffs, riffs, riffs. In extreme metal, I never really thought that there was anything called real songwriting. Since the thrash metal days it has always been about riff-o-rama, fat riffs upon fat riffs. But some guys like old Bathory or some old Burzum tracks that are more monotonous; they’re more into this landscape of songwriting. But basically songwriting is what Bruce Springsteen does. What we’re doing with extreme metal, I’d say it’s more like riff upon riff. It’s more like a mixture of fast, slow and mid-paced riffs, and that’s what we’ve always had.”
In the split issue with Cair Andros, Nocturno Culto had to ponder what for him was the essence and meaning of doing Darkthrone. It felt appropriate to pose his partner-in-grime the same question.
“Nocturno Culto and I have worked together for fifteen years now—and Bon Jovi has for twenty years!” Fenriz laughs. “Anyway, we’re taking it easy and thinking very moderately. I think that if we try to work our way through the scene like water and not like a rock that says ‘I’m here, I’m the best’ all the time and shut up a bit and stay low, then it’s going to be alright. We’re not thinking of quitting this Darkthrone project. In our heads it’s maybe 40 percent of what we think about. But we’re doing a lot of thinking and not so much playing; we don’t want to end up playing technical like Watchtower or Dream Theater.”
To conclude on a bizarre instance of male bonding, here is how Fenriz defines the relationship between Nocturno Culto and him: “You have at least a couple of great rally drivers there in Finland, and as you can see on the rally one guy has to drive the car and the other guy has to read the map. You can’t both sit there and drive the car. The last few years Nocturno Culto has been driving the Darkthrone car—I’m just reading the fucking map. I’m a map fanatic anyway: give me a map and you’ve got me silenced for two hours.”