Darkthrone’s 1991’s ‘A Blaze in the Northern Sky’ was the album that helped kickstart modern Norwegian black metal, a movement whose key players would come to be known to the outside world more from their criminal activities than their music. With songs clocking in at 7-10 minutes long, Celtic Frost-inspired riffs, and tortured, delirious wailing indecipherably bestowing drummer/lyricist Fenriz’s Satanic verse, ‘Blaze’ was unlike anything else floating around in the fetid waters of the extreme metal underground and served as a manifesto for the band’s following three albums, all recorded on 4-track. On ‘Under a Funeral Moon’, ‘Transilvanian Hunger’, and ‘Panzerfaust’, Darkthrone filtered their fanatically evil aesthetic into a crude, raw garage minimalism with strict rules. The core of the music was built on thickly layered riffs (no solos allowed) backed by Fenriz’s simple yet powerful repetitive drumming.
On their latest album, this year’s ‘Hate Them’, Darkthrone seem to have recaptured something of their former evil glory. After several listens to the punk-fueled fury of “Det Svartner Na,” guitarist-vocalist Nocturno Culto’s demonic snarl on songs like “Fucked Up and Ready to Die,” and the powerful riffs and mysterious lyrics permeating the entire album, it becomes clear that Hate Them is both heavy and accessible enough to attract a new generation of Darkthrone fans.
A cult band in the true sense of the word, Darkthrone’s members are as elusive as they are music savvy. They’ve refused to play live for most of their career and persistently refute any claims to originality, unwittingly assuming a heroic stance by refusing to submit to their own legacy. This telephone conversation with Fenriz took place on the first day of August, 2003, between my apartment in Prague and the Moonfog office in Oslo.
Fenriz: Hello there, dear sir.
Dorfdisco: Hey man, how’s it going?
Fenriz: All right, I was bicycling today, but then the rain started to fall and I had to take a cab up here. Everything for you, my man.
Dorfdisco: I heard you were just on holiday. Where’d you go?
Fenriz: Well, I’m still on holiday. But I’m not fond of holidays. I just go into the forest for rather short trips, like five hours. So that’s what I do. I had my 56th forest trip yesterday this year. So that’s what I do instead of playing the guitar and becoming a prog rock dude.
Dorfdisco: Hate Them is a fucking great album. It’s easily one of the best things you’ve done in years. Is there any chance of some live shows?
Fenriz: Yeah, when pigs fly. When Emperor takes off their sunglasses for photo shoots. No, we’re not going to go there. I don’t even want to think about it because I hate playing my instruments. I haven’t called myself a musician for ages. I’ve got not so much music left in me because I’ve filled the void, or not the void, but I just keep listening to so much music, it’s ridiculous, and it’s like, okay, that just kills the creativity. (Noise in the background) Excuse me in the background, can you make some more noise? (Laughter) Sorry, they’re just rummaging through some bags here.
Dorfdisco: Do you listen to a lot of punk? I noticed some punk riffs on the new album, especially on the second track.
Fenriz: It depends on how far you stretch the term punk rock, but yeah, there’s always been punk in my life as with other musical styles. But my favorite is crust punk, we call it crust punk here. I got a shirt on now with one of America’s best bands, called World Burns To Death, actually. It’s too bad most Americans have heard of Slipnot, but not World Burns To Death. They’re crust punk. It’s a genre that was inspired by Discharge, and hasn’t changed much. But this is a band that just tours South America and stuff like that, they don’t care about commercialism at all, but they’re brutal. Totally to the max, to the core. The vocalist also sings in Severed Head of State, but you probably haven’t heard of that, either. But basically I get a lot of anger in this music. I find lots of modern black metal ridiculously devoid of anger and that stuff. So I want to do that. Usually, I’m not playing the drums anymore; I’m just hitting them now.
Dorfdisco: So there aren’t any new Norwegian black metal bands that you’re into?
Fenriz: Yeah, sure. I mean, we got Orcustus, we got 1349, Noctofrost, we’ve got [indecipherable], these bands are cool, not all of them totally brutal. But they’re playing a variety of black metal that’s perfect. So you’ve got 4 bands there that you need to focus on.
Dorfdisco: In what ways would you say the Darkthrone sound has evolved over the years? The production on Hate Them sounds a lot cleaner than, say, Panzerfaust or Transilvanian Hunger.
Fenriz: Well, on Panzerfaust and Transilvanian Hunger we used a 4-track studio. We tried to make the best out of that. I’m not saying we’re trying to make the worst out of a situation when we’re in a big studio, but naturally of course the sound will be clearer. I never understood the point of not being able to hear a band’s riffs. You’ve always been able to hear what kind of riffs and notes we use, that’s not the thing, we just don’t want it to sound too clean or too rosy, if you get the drift. We’re still gonna sound like Motorhead. And I don’t really think our sound has changed at all. The lyrics have changed, of course, because I’m really scared of people who haven’t changed their stance since they were 14. Perspective is everything, as Aimee Mann says. The lyrics have been progressing, but the music has been more or less regressive, or at least stayed the same for the last 10 or 12 years. As far as I know. I’m barely making riffs, and when I’m making a riff I’m making it for Darkthrone, and what I’ve been inspired by for the last year is basically three bands, and that’s Hellhammer, Deathstrike from the United States, and early Motorhead stuff. Phil “the Animal” Taylor from Motorhead is also one of my favorite drummers. I used to be a musician. I listened to Rush and bought cymbals because of the cymbals that the guy had when he played on the first Dream Theater album, but those were the days, my friend.
Dorfdisco: Has the process of writing lyrics over the years become easier for you?
Fenriz: No, much harder. It should be much harder for everyone I think, but I’m not laying down the law. But you’re of course afraid of repeating yourself. As I’ve been writing lyrics for 15 years, some words gotta reoccur. But I’m trying to make that not happen either. That’s difficult and I’m changing, not all the time, but I’ve been changing the way of writing lyrics many times, for sure. Which is never an easy decision.
Dorfdisco: I know that you’re involved in a lot of side projects…
Fenriz: No, not anymore. As I told you, I’ve been burnt out since ‘95. Up to that point I made four records every year, it seemed. But now I’m basically just concentrating on Darkthrone. But people always want me to do other stuff and I’m not always the grand master of saying no, so we’ll see what’s in the pipeline. I can’t tell you that now. Sorry.
Dorfdisco: Most of the old school black metal bands had a pretty stand-offish stance towards drugs and alcohol, but you guys have always been pretty open in your attitude towards substances. So I was wondering…
Fenriz: Well, I know what you mean, but when I say “old school black metal,” I’m not thinking about the ‘90s. Actually, I’d rather say fuck the ‘90s, but I like the bands from the ‘90s who try to sound like the ‘80s and that’s what we do, you know. And you asked earlier where the style emerged from, and I’ve been saying all along basically nothing. Darkthrone has never tried to be original, but just tried to pay homage to Bathory and Celtic Frost and Hellhammer. So okay, but oh – sorry, I didn’t really digress, but answered a previous question…
Dorfdisco: I was talking more about the bands from the early ‘90s in Norway…
Fenriz: Oh yeah. Come on, we were always drinkers, man. It was more like Burzum, Count Grishnack who wanted things strict and straight. That was like, deviant behavior is not fucking yourself up. Fucking yourself up is more or less what black metal has been about. You see, you can take two stances: they both work in black metal, they also work in human beings. You know, sometimes you’ve gotta party, sometimes you’ve gotta relax. But if you’re gonna be a follower of Anton LaVey, you’re supposed to be The Man all the time, and then you’re not supposed to be on the sauce because then you’re gonna be making a fool out of yourself. Then again, I’m saying fuck up yourself. Both things work, you’ve just got to mix them right. Don’t drink just rum or just coke, but if you mix them together, maybe it makes sense. (Laughs)
Dorfdisco: I was just wondering, because Darkthrone’s music has such an intoxicating effect…
Fenriz: Woo-hoo! A friend of mine who plays in a Christian band actually, there’s a place in Oslo where all the junkies hang, he passes it on his way to work. That’s the way it works in Oslo, they’ve got a place of their own, and this guy is always spotting junkies with Darkthrone t-shirts, and what I wrote back to him today in an SMS is, okay, there must be someone who takes my message seriously. (Laughs) Of course, that’s mean, you know. Sorry. But I prefer to be an alcoholic, not a junkie.