Manes interview from Qvadrivivm #5 (2008)

God Is in the Details

Interview: Kuronen

and how the World Came to an End has them in spades. Details, that is. Manes from Trondheim, now departed from this world and transformed into Kkoagulaa, could not have left with a more radiant album. How the World Came to an End is a more layered and textured, if you will a more “postmodern” work than its predecessor Vilosophe; one that builds up more intensely from fragments and small bits and pieces than the still quite traditional arrangements and instrumentations of its predecessor. It is stylistically more varied and tremendously invigorating as such, traveling from out-and-out hip hop to dub, bumping nuanced electronica on the way and fortifying things with Vilosophe-styled indie melancho rock.

Many of the tracks on the album illustrate a rather abstract and serene approach to making songs and sound. “Abstract with extra detail” is not an oxymoron, mind. The exceptions are “Deeprooted” and “A Cancer in Our Midst” which are of a markedly thumping, bass-oriented and chunky nature. For the most part, the organic and the synthetic seem to have switched places from Vilosophe, the synthetic now enjoying the limelight. It is easy to see that the recording process deviates from the “traditional plug’n’play record-yer-bits-sonny fashion”, as Manes so sharply express it. One particularly admirable nuance in the music is the manner in which speech samples are integrated into the songs.

It is like a work of science. Challenging as it is, How the World… offers a good opportunity to ask, why is being analytical appreciated? The immediate answer is that noticing details brings mental satisfaction. Being capable of smashing something to its particles and building it up again, perhaps with the Hegelian thesis-antithesis-synthesis construction, adds to the understanding of processes. The sum can be a lot more than its parts. If there is any number of details involved, they are there for a reason; as innocent by-product, unnoticed error, jewels for those who seek, or merely for the possibility of having them there.

Comments Cern aka. Tor-Helge Skei: “I always make music and audio, all kinds of stuff, all kinds of styles and genres, from tiny small patterns and loops to sound presets, samples, riffs, short arrangement tests, etc, etc. Additionally I get passed a lot of material from Eivind and Torstein, and this time also a lot from the collaborators. When the time came to start thinking about an album, we listened through all this, sorted them, discussed them, tried to “feel” them… Then started messing around more concretely, like deciding what to keep, and what to discard… Slowly things started to take on some distinct feeling or atmosphere, and we built upon that even more… And at the same time we let collaborators and contributors have their go at their own things on these ideas too. Studio work this time was divided between a few different studios, for testing, for additional vocals, for mixing, and so on… So, any 'band-feeling', line-up considerations, etc, was totally set aside. We didn't have one single rehearsal, no single riff or pattern or loop meant anything, except when put into context with the rest.

“It started not too unlike how we began before, but this time, we decided to let the atmospheres in the original ideas stay for much longer, becoming the major parts in the final versions, and not always replace things with the traditional guitar/voc/bass/drums + extras instrumentation. We decided that who plays what, how much and when etc. was not important at all, not even how many people were involved, or what they did or anything… In one way everything was much more open and free, more radical, more new ways of working, but on the other hand, we wanted to do a more focused, much darker and negative album than the last one, very directional, kind of two opposing interests always fighting for attention.

“I always record a lot of stuff, like documentaries, movies, television, household items, my dog, whatever that makes sound and makes another sample in an already gigantic sample library. Later, we wade through these, when trying out new approaches, or different ways of doing things… Listening to, or creating stuff that I have heard before in some way or another doesn’t interest me at all, so I always kind of try a new way, a new focus or whatever, combining things that I don’t think will fit together, then trying to get them to work anyway. It’s not like we go hunting for a ‘speech sample’ or whatever. Normally things like that is the starting point, and we meddle around it with instruments, sounds, to enhance it even further, and before we know it, a new song/idea is beginning to take shape.”

Adding to the science atmosphere of late conundrums by Manes is that it seems the members often viewed their works in a vacuum that has no relation to the social dimension. They disregarded the reviews Vilosophe got for the reason of feeling that the album led a life of its own. It was the music that mattered. They also knew that a band's cult following has to do with people's opinions on the band, not the actual music (the text) itself. Yet one is inclined to ask, with what technique can you wholly distinguish the text, the opus, the musical work from the social environment in which it is interpreted?

“That social aspect of modern music business is really killing my interest in any ‘scene’ or genre,” says Skei. “For example, I think people going to concerts are doing it more for socializing then the music, de-grading the music. And reviews and critics, thinking they understand what an artist feels or thinks, or why a band does this or that or whatever, going on for ages about the importance of a piece of art… Artificially giving themselves more weight, more importance. Why should others really care about what one single person experiences when listening to music? Is it something like, ‘Listen, I know what I'm talking about, I'm important’, or is it more like, “He thinks it is good, so I need to think that too, or I obviously understand what it's all about’ or something? I don't know, and have stopped caring…

For an end, let’s expand the science thematic with a small questionnaire.

A) What theoretical or pragmatic stance do you personally or Manes collectively have towards the advancement of science? Do you think such an evolution of science actually exists or is it simply one of the fabricated grand narratives Lyotard speaks of?

“I'm not familiar with the Lyotard bloke you mention… Sounds a bit like 'retard', he. But well, ‘evolution’ is more or less an abstract thought or concept, isn't it? Evolve, change, move forward, etc… Just a common name for doing things ‘different than last time’? Is progress and evolution ‘important’? I like to not make a grand, final decision on such subjects, but like to think and consider things that we take for granted, and re-evaluate things. but generally, I think reality exist only inside our heads, that reality is really more or less an illusion, a straw we cling on to, to give our existence meaning.

B) What would you say is the greatest invention of science or technology?

“For mankind? For the earth/universe? Or for me personally? The greatest invention for one might be the most massive disaster for others… And another thing, is the state we are in now that much better than how they lived their lives in the stone age? It's different, of course, but better? I don't know, I haven't tried all variants, only the current one, which, in general, is total shit. You can say that mastering things at the atomic scale was/is a major invention or break-through, but look at what they are doing with it.

C) If Manes was some technological or mental innovation of science, what would that innovation be?

“Napalm, zyklon b, uranium, cancer, silicon.”

D) What would you deem are the most harmful effects the discoveries of science have on the modern Western citizen?

“Being the animals we really are, everything will be used for power and money only, but maybe giving some side-effects so that we believe things are 'good for mankind'. Nobody would 'invent' or make things for anything else than personal prestige, money, fame, power, etc. We are just animals, after all. Mother Theresa guaranteed had some personal reasons for doing what she did, be it a feeling of 'I mean something' or whatever… Same with Gandhi, Hitler, Bush.”


Thine interview from Qvadrivivm #5 (2008)

Bleaker Optimism

Interview: Kuronen

31 jan. 2003.
Friday, 9:30 A.M. Hung over. One of the best days of the year.

5 Dec. 2003. Friday, 9:30 A.M. The same physical-existential condition. One of the worst days of the year.

On the second occasion, I put In Therapy, the second part of Thine’s assumed trilogy of albums, in the player because I want it to mirror the first occasion, to work as a sort of ironical remark on the threads to recent personal history. The first time it is played for entirely different reasons.

Katatonia-mop Jonas Renkse has stated that he doesn’t like it when artists start to write happy songs after a certain time period. Depressive is the kind of music he likes. “Even when I’m in a good mood, I listen to depressive music. Actually it makes me happier,” goes the argument.

What lies behind the thought patterns and behavioural blueprints of a human being when he, on the most beautiful and exuberant day of the year, on the peak of his existence, puts on a record like In Therapy and can enjoy it to the tee, without feeling the slightest hint of negativity? Why do I use In Therapy as a counterbalancing force? This I ask Thine guitarist Paul Groundwell.

“From the perspective of In Therapy, many people may not even notice that it is a pretty dark and bleak album and maybe that is its charm. It is a deception. The woman who smiles at you in the park on a Saturday afternoon could be thinking of horror.

“The man down the road who says hello every morning with a wave and a smile could go home and beat up his wife. People who find us accessible upon listening do not have to know our darker side. People who do not know English may think we are a happy band of boys on some songs.

“Depressing music is also beautiful at the same time. I think that listening to dark music helps diffuse the negativity in a way. It becomes calming like a therapy session.

“It helps you to understand and comprehend. A topic that is depressing often derives from a topic based on love so its roots are usually the same. The best love songs usually have some twist or looming tragic end. It is the way of life. To love and lose. If music is thought provoking, it is depressing only if you chose to see it that way.

“Maybe albums hold two functions in that if we are depressed, then we relate to a depressive album that is almost sympathetic to our problems, yet when we are happy, we can just enjoy the album for its mood and creativity because at that moment in time the problems are theirs and not ours to share with them.

“It depends. Is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory a happy, family film or a dark, at times unnerving experience? I think it’s pretty messed up myself.

“By the way, Jonas really liked In Therapy, so he obviously knows what he’s talking about.”

So there.

let’s go back a few years. Thine used to be a band very different from the one they are today. In Therapy uses a rather heavy marker to underline the transitions that have taken place in the group’s music. In a variety of respects, the simple melancholic metal rock renders the earlier, textured editions of Thine a square metre of ancient canvas. This is something the band have made quite clear in interviews. “If we had tried not to sound like a certain band, we would have sounded like a different one anyway,” ran some utterance. This kind of progress could promote not only bemusement but also downright anger in some people (‘fans’, as they are called). Hence it is best to offer Paul Groundwell an opportunity to clarify things.

“The earlier Thine became a weird fusion of styles and a willingness to not be held within boundaries,” he says. “Maybe this is why we keep changing so much—because we do not want to be caged… We do not want people to predict our patterns. We are not formulaic in our approach to a release. If we were a big, commercially successful group then maybe our intentions would differ—but I can’t imagine that happening right now.

“The early Thine incarnation was magnificent. The songs on the first album kept you guessing, kept you awake. It was like an insight into the tragedy of man as told in the style of a prophetic dream or something. It was very symbolic. Every line had several meanings depending on your perspective of context. Imagery was heavily used as well because the music was less restricted. We could paint many pictures. “A gallery of the carnival of existence and the cunning of man”. I think Thine were misrepresented because people had to categorize us. It was conscious creativity.

“It is true that around the first album we ended up being compared to a load of old prog bands that we never listened to, but we didn’t mind if certain ideas sounded similar to other bands—the album just ended up sounding original because we threw many ingredients into the same pot at once.”

Between 1998’s A Town Like This and In Therapy, a lot of troubles and perturbing ghosts had to be got rid of. Once again, a great achievement was initiated by misery and misfortune.

Recalls Paul, “Other than members’ personal and mental problems, a lot of what drove us was the willingness to prove people wrong. Personally I spent many, many hours shaping In Therapy. It became like a spiteful shadow, because it followed me everywhere. It never really became a burden though, just stubborn determination and a conscious act of revenge. To make art you must have something that drives you, and negative energy usually works best. Maybe this is some people’s definition of Satan, as a source of pride and inspiration, when your closest friend is your own misery turned destructive. The ghosts never leave, although they only surface once in a while. It is an exercise in containment. In Therapy was an exercise in containment. I think the next album is an exercise in release, as could be said of A Town Like This. So yeah, the ghosts haven’t gone and I don’t want them to go, because, as you correctly stated, basically it is the shit that drives us.”

Was there any particular breakthrough moment for you in terms of your music between the two albums—something that made you realise you could work in this new form?

“Well, for one, we didn’t want to repeat ourselves,” Paul replies. “The evolution to the new style happened over a few months. After the first album, some more songs were written in a similar style. These songs were then dropped. I then compiled a tape of about 70 minutes of new stuff at the end of 1998, which was 90 percent clean guitar music with more catchy ideas and tunes compared with the first album. I don’t think the other guys were too keen though, because these songs did not incorporate much energy—they were more structured songs with lyrical tales similar to those on the first album. One was about a guy whose job was to collect the bodies of children from the local lake. He had a low mental age and could not grasp the concept of death. He would bring them to the shore and wonder why they were blue, and not moving, and not responding to him. The music to this song was, in contrast, quite light, almost jolly. I thought it worked well… not being so obvious as to reflect dark concepts with dark music. Sometimes the impact is reduced by revelling in too much drama. I kept the idea of shorter, structured, to-the-point songs where the vocal could dominate the song more than before. The new style has not really changed much since just after this point—early to mid 1999, after those songs were also dropped. The newer songs were just re-worked and re-worked until they were satisfactory.”

Some critics might claim that the all-important chance in Thine’s music has been lost and obliterated with the transition; that the unexpected elements have been replaced by superfluous opportunism.

Paul concurs to some extent: “I would probably agree that the element of surprise was sacrificed but, like I said, In Therapy was an album of containment. It is maybe best to see Thine as a concept in itself because you cannot understand a book by reading one chapter. In Therapy was one chapter. It is like a film. A Town Like This was maybe the grand visual opening sequence with location setting and In Therapy was more about plot and character development. In Therapy was a very psychological and gritty album that was more dedicated to restriction and consistency than to over-extravagant expression. This is how it retains an element of cold calculation. I used to fear criticism but it is just opinion. No problem.”

Going from the abundant, progressive complexity of A Town Like This to the streamlined style of emotional music presented on In Therapy has had its inevitable effects on the technique and inner psyche of the band.

“The new style is more accessible,” believes Paul. “It is not as initially challenging as before. It has been stripped down to incorporate a sense of reality and focus. The technique behind composing In Therapy was probably more complex and gives more raw insight into what we are about. Artistic ambition doesn’t change, it is not even a consideration. If inspiration comes as it does now, good. If not then we die because we would have no more determination or drive to succeed or create. It just happens because it is a part of life and not life itself.”

Many people have said that upon first listen In Therapy appeared to them as an excessively formulaic experience. I would have to admit to sharing this sensation. On the first exposure, everything seems to go on, but—with the exception of “Feel”, and perhaps “Contact Point”—not a lot happens. This tendency to grow listen by listen, a quality many of us know from the best and most hardwearing of rock albums, really shows on In Therapy.

“It is strange because I wanted the impact to be instant,” Paul reflects. “I wanted people to be hooked straight away. The basic song structures all came pretty easily over the course of time. They were re-worked many times though and some lyrics were also frequently re-written. This album was based more around rhythm and vocals than riffs, so this is why the vocal ideas were very important. It is weird though, because I have listened to In Therapy many, many times—way past the point when I should have become bored but I rarely tire of it. It is a case of becoming familiar enough with the album to differentiate and to listen to all the layers. Some reviews said the same thing—that initially there is nothing outstanding but then over time it unravels itself. The point of listening to an album is to try and make a stranger become a friend. A case of approach and circumstance (and quite often trend).”

If someone were to say that In Therapy lacks in dynamics, Paul would not lose his temper, instead recommending that person to get more intimate with the album.

“I would say to look at the songs individually. The songs themselves do not lack dynamics. Maybe people would like more variety from the album, which is fair enough, but I wanted this album stripped down of everything that is too fiddly or shiny. No nice little interludes. No Rock-God solos. That was not our style. The album is a statement. It was trying to avoid soap opera dynamics. If people choose to frown at strangers then it is their choice to keep a smaller circle of friends.”

“But you left me / Doesn’t that count for anything? / I’m a product of you and for you / Now please excuse me while I redecorate this world for you” – Thine, “Deny Everything”

with Thine, even amid the rather drastic transformations, one of the main timbres has retained its central position: the noticeable eccentricity, flash of madness, even. On In Therapy, most of this quirkiness appears to reside in the dingy world of the lyrics. Whereas the music itself is quite conformist, there is a weighty batch of crooked thought to be found in the verse not printed on the sleeve. Paul says the general genesis of the lyrics was all his and Alan’s work.

“I wrote all the lyrics except “Feel”, “In Therapy” and “Contact Point” which were by Alan. You are right in that the musical quirkiness has gone. This is probably more a diary than a colourful philosophy book with illustrations. Some of the change in writing style was to fit the lyrics into the song structure. If you are repeating a catchy chorus several times then you cannot write paragraphs of creative writing without repetition. It was a hard task to put across a song with deep, slightly twisted meanings with the way they are structured. I think it worked though. I have always preferred writing about darker aspects and observations. It is like a four-minute injection of experience. We always fear that which sounds too familiar to our own experiences or desires. I just wanted people to think—“yes, I know what you mean”.”

The particles in the representation of this twistedness are far between, but they seem to have one mutual factor—that of some sort of iciness of human behaviour. Within the compositions, there is violence working as a type of focalizer; love being portrayed through aggression and cruelty; martyrdom and inadequateness born out of not meeting the requirements of being a human; inner dystopia; estrangement; detachment; eccentric morals; what have you. Everything is framed, however, by utmost contradiction, as it seems that every time the destitution is complete, some sign of caring, understanding, and empathy will surface, as though a certain portion of humanity was always preserved for posterity. All in all, the lyrics contribute to a very cryptic, paranoid and schizophrenic setting. Everything emerges as being somewhat Kafkaesque. Even though I understand, from reading my share of Fish, Ingarden, Iser and their lot, that there has to be a strong reverence for the reader’s interpretation in the analysis of texts, I also believe there must be a core ‘text’ for all writing. Paul believes the grand scheme of the texts of In Therapy is merely balance.

“The lyrics are pushing and pulling—the same hand that welcomes and caresses you is the one that forms a fist and betrays you. There is much paranoia, because there is no longer a function for trust. There are no morals or conscience. Civilisation has become a myth because we still function on primitive impulses no matter how advanced our planet has become. Merely knowing right from wrong does not deem us civil. When one abides quite strongly by the code of morals, it does not make you better, it gives you more contempt for everyone else, who morals seem not to concern. I can easily write about violence because I can contain it. I can write about my ghosts because I can contain them also, but it doesn’t make the situation any less real. Lyrics are not just one theme per song, they are many small thoughts compiled into one. It is the untold secrets and desires of humans that probably interest me most—more what someone will think of but not dare say to you or admit to.

“Although most of the lyrics are rooted and spawned from reality and experience, some of the themes are obviously exaggerated. I think it succeeds though because it is the thought of the action rather than the action itself. In “Homewrecker Extraordinaire” and “Never Learn” there are flashes of violent imagery that are more like warnings than the actual thing. It is the thought of potential power that is capable of being released that disturbs. That doesn’t make it any less real, because the thought of the action was raw enough to enter your mind.”

So, paul perceives the musical side of In Therapy as the antithesis of the lyrical and thematic reality of Thine. A total contrast, that is what he wants the album to be. It follows that the high-tempo metallic rock an sich should carry a number of upbeat elements into the frame of mind of the listener. At least to my demented mind this is a rather difficult prospect to imagine.

“To me, this contradiction works well,” Paul says. “There are many cases of well respected members of a community being murderers or child molesters, yet to those who know him or her it is always the same, “No, this person would never do something like that“. It is mankind’s well-executed art of deception and phasing out of conscience. Potential killers walk the streets.

“Paranoia. The upbeat music is there to welcome you in, to tell you that everything is OK. It is the light at the end of despair. A term I use to sum it up is bleaker optimism.

“I am an optimist. The album could almost be two sided though:

“A: The music could be there to show that eventually, when all the bad stuff has passed, things will get better. The determination to succeed.

“B: The lyrics could be there to show that no matter how hard you try, tragedy is never far away.

“The result can just be an individual’s outlook in regard to their own way of tackling life.  Is the cup half-full or half-empty?”

Even though In Therapy is not a portrait of the most typical and simplified of emotions, the emotional capacity of Thine’s music has inarguably soared since the last full-length album. It almost seems as if this has made the music a more social experience, which must be an almost unheard-of characteristic for Thine. This change of perspective, says Paul, is to broaden the range and impact of emotion in the music.

“The music is now more accessible. The impact from a chorus was a very conscious effort—to be uplifting, beautiful but also often despairing. It has become more real. Perhaps it is our ‘coming of age’. The next album is sounding even more uplifting but perhaps a little too thoughtful and isolating to be a social experience unless it is a gathering of those who share some common malfunction.”

Yes, the next album. It is the closing episode of the trilogy. How will the monster ruin its disguise?

“We will do another album, darker than In Therapy in some respects, more primitive emotionally, maybe to close the chapter… maybe not. There are certain bands who shed their disguise to the world and look a lot less interesting for it. I think the monster remains of intrigue anyway because some of it is too close to truth to be exposed. The deception is more in the perceptions of the people and their willingness to come closer. We do not intend to ruin the disguise because people aren’t close enough anyway.

“The next album should not be far away. The songs are already written, although we’ll probably do a demo recording first. The music is a further evolution, although some elements from In Therapy remain. Some songs are more experimental but the lyrical topics are also quite similar. We do not want to just repeat that album though because this chapter will have much more to say. Obviously, the satisfaction is in the finished product.”

Quiz question: Who was it that Alan met at Bradford Rio in 1997-98 when Thine were supporting Anathema there, and why did he think it was me?

in all, In Therapy is, both musically and lyrically, a very conscious and calculated effort. Alan’s vocals seem an apt manifestation of these attributes; while being quite high in the mix, they give the impression of being rather colourless. Paul refers to them as ‘cold and stark’, ‘like emotionless emotion’, which is a good description. According to the guitarist, the vocalist, who also appears on the front cover of the album, was very paranoid and frustrated and had other stuff going on that were messing him up at the time of recording. Alan’s being on a low point makes the performance more real on the record because he was not really putting on an act, opines Paul.

It is often said that by the passage of time a high degree of calculation and consideration will find its relief in primitivism, the uncontrolled act of outing emotions; that the needs of emotion and freedom are not sufficiently nourished via meticulous contemplation and extreme fastidiousness. Paul reckons Thine might never be able to shake the elements of control and sensibility off of themselves. The surveillance stays.

“The calculation and consideration will always remain but will become more expressive rather than constraining, but not an uncalculated release of emotion. The needs were not supposed to be nourished, more suppressed. It is interesting to think of the limits of human emotional endurance. People ask me “Where does all your anger go?” It doesn’t go anywhere. I suppose it builds up which is why people seek release. I suppose this is the element of primitivism you mention but I am suspicious of many bands and their integrity towards a supposed outpouring of emotion. There is no point in pretending. I am sure some bands are genuine but I don’t like the thought of extreme music without extreme motivation.

“Thine are bound by restriction but we are our own entity and, for me, a whole following, a whole set up. We have been left out for certain reasons. My term was to keep us standing tall because we have done this for quite a long time now yet certain things remain inappropriate. This will be corrected. A band becomes an entity but is just somebody at home writing some songs. That is all. No secret formula. No master plan. I don’t write songs in the name of Thine or within the restriction of Thine code, I just become inspired and write. It is an institution for us because it became more than a mere foundation.”

On the release of the first album, many vipers deemed Thine victims of the typically British disease of cocky, know-it-all mentality coupled with a very cynical ‘besser wisser’ type look on life. Even if they aren’t all ‘dedicated and quiet’, Paul does not feel that the aforementioned is quite true of the characters and personalities in Thine.

“I am the dedicated and quiet one,” the guitarist says. “I don’t know about this cocky mentality. I don’t know what we were supposed to know to know it all. A thing I sometimes read in reviews is that “I knew Thine existed but I never read much about them“. How can we be cocky when we have existed in the shadows for years and many have barely heard of us? Something is wrong there… But yeah, maybe it did come across in the music—an air of sophistication and extravagance. A couple of members at that time were pretty extroverted but I am sure the vipers never ensnared them for long enough to even realise so. We are certainly no cockier than any other band. Probably much less so.”

A Town Like This has been described by the band as the first ‘metal noir’ album ever. In some ways, this term is reminiscent of the ‘tech noir’ coining that was used to glorify sci-fi films in the eighties. The same faux feel of imaginative over-sophistication could almost be applied to the concept of ‘metal noir’.

“I don’t know,” Paul’s weighs. “It was someone at Terrorizer who did an interview and at the end he had written,  “…Not black metal, but metal noir”. I thought this perfectly summed up the atmosphere I was trying to create on that album. It was a comparison to film noir I think, which contains dark topics and black humour of a certain ambience usually. It seems that this was reflected in our music and the content of the lyrics. It is a feeling of sophistication but more of a man with a cigarette in his mouth and a knife in his back.”

in the end, what do Thine have to do in order to exist to the fullest? As told by Paul, they have to retain the inspiration they have for creating music. Thine do not need people saying that they had heard the name but not read much about the band.

Well, that is what we have been here for. Paul has the final word: “Man, that was hard work. Am I cured?”


Green Carnation interview from Qvadrivivm #5 (2008)

Personally Taken

Interview: Kuronen

2003 was an excellent year for the variety of Norwegian metal that continued its transmutation into something less abrasive. Manes’ Vilosophe, Solefald’s In Harmonia Universali and Beyond Dawn’s Frysh all brought into the world something that it could not have done without. Perhaps the greatest shocker of all was Green Carnation’s A Blessing in Disguise. Like a maudlin 15-year-old girl getting pissed from two ciders, it recklessly splashed its emotional saliva everywhere. From the head-on hard rock gospels of “Crushed to Dust” and “As Life Flows By” to the wooing prog melancholia of “Two Seconds in Life” and “Lullaby in Winter”, one of the best tracks of the calendar year, the third album by ex-Emperor Tchort’s gang did it all, leaving more than a few jaws in shambles. You didn’t expect this to come from a chap who’s spent half his life playing in Norwegian metal bands spanning from the rough to the rougher.

The ‘irony’ of it all perhaps lies in the fact that the kind of material portrayed on A Blessing in Disguise was not only new to the listener, it was also as previously unmapped by its maker, Tchort—bar the opening riff of “Writings on the Wall”, which was culled from a ‘suggestions’ tape for Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk.

“I don’t listen to bands similar to Green Carnation at all,” Tchort states, acknowledging that this might take people by surprise. The novelty of A Blessing in Disguise is something that had its unavoidable effects on the process of writing and recording the album.

“I’ve never played this kind of music before because my background is in death metal and black metal,” Tchort says, “so it wasn’t easy for me to record it as I had to get used to how to play rock n’ roll riffs, how to make it sound good. That was a challenge for me. We didn’t rehearse for this album; everything was made in pre-production with just me, the guitar and a computer. Everyone got a CD with the songs and we just met in the studio and recorded the songs. I didn’t have the time to learn the songs properly with the rest of the band.”

A Blessing in Disguise is an album that never emotionally recoils. Even though Tchort still considers the foregoing Light of Day, Day of Darkness his musical legacy, the successor is an equally important outing. Some of its personal interconnections are reflected on the cover, which depicts Tchort’s son Damien, stylised to appear like the Damien of the Omen movies, looking guiltlessly upwards as if to some father figure. Unlike his nasty fictional namesake, Tchort’s son really is sweet and innocent, as the proud father accounts: “He really was a blessing for me, giving me back my faith and belief in life, the taste for life, my inspiration.” An intimate entity A Blessing in Disguise is, then.

“Green Carnation is the only band in which I express my personal self. I don’t do anything else in life that expresses my feelings. It’s just the Green Carnation music and lyrics that express me and my personal life at all. In Carpathian Forest and Blood Red Throne there is nothing personal at all, it’s just passion and music. But Green Carnation is an outlet for me personally—it has been and probably will always be. It’s my only source of personal expression. I think these may be some of the reasons why a lot of people like Green Carnation. It’s genuine, it’s honest and it comes from something deeper than just passion for music.”

Tchort says he doesn’t always comprehend the conflicting equations of his musical inclinations.

“Usually I say that I’m not always in a mood where I need to express myself. I’m not always in a bad or sad mood. I have different kinds of personalities and states of mind, and having these three bands gives me the opportunity to express these different kinds of moods. I used to be a really angry person in the past with a lot of hate and a lot of aggression within myself, and this is a good opportunity now to release that with a band like Blood Red Throne. Of course, I have more soft sides. I’m a parent, I have a son, so it’s also nice to have a band like Green Carnation through which I express myself. To me it’s fulfilling myself, my personal needs and my personal state of mind. It’s a perfect mix for me to have these three bands. But yes, it’s very contradictory. Like usually I write my signature with an upside-down cross for the T’s. Then someone comes to me with the Green Carnation album and wants me to sign it and I’m like, ‘Hmm, doesn’t fit with that hair, what do I write’, haha.”

The years from 1994 to 1999 were an extensive spell of limbo for Tchort, a period of time far removed from the burst of activity and inspiration that has made him participate on a dozen of albums in the last four years. From his daughter’s passing ten years ago to the birth of his son five years later Tchort says he was ‘totally lost’ and ‘couldn’t do anything’.

“I was still playing in other bands like Carpathian Forest, Einherjer and Satyricon but I didn’t have any responsibility with promotion, doing lyrics, music or anything. I just had to play so that was the only thing that kept me within music, just to play some other people’s music. Just to keep the interest going. But there was no passion.

“I never expect anyone to understand my lyrics or my expression of what happened to me because it happened to me, it didn’t happen to the ones who read the lyrics or listen to the music. I don’t like reading other people’s poems; they have something personal they want to express and I don’t understand it because I didn’t experience the same thing. It makes me feel weird. I cannot say that ‘Hey, this is a good poem’ because I don’t understand it. It’s the same thing with Green Carnation: the two first albums I didn’t expect anyone to really say it was good because it’s really personal. It’s a matter of what you have experienced yourself, if you can relate to it.”

Then there is the secret, which has been semi-public for half a decade or so with no actualisation.

“I already have the ideas for the next album which will kind of make a small revolution, not maybe in how the music is done but how an album is presented to the listener. So that’s something I really will try to do. If we’ll be able to do it—I don’t know—it will make a small revolution in how to present an album. I think it will be much more difficult and it will take much more effort than Light of Day, Day of Darkness, so I’m not sure if I really want to go ahead with it for the next album. Maybe I’ll jump over one album and do it for the album after the next one because I think it will take a lot of time to do it. I don’t want to say too much about it since maybe I won’t be able to do it.

No wonder the man, now going solo with Green Carnation, keeps repeating that he likes a good challenge. Nothing wrong with that.