Darkthrone: Striking Like Lightning

“We will tour Canberra extensively from March 2017 til April 2033”

Fenriz Nagell also known as the permanently nonchalant and inhibited wild child of Black Metal but really, his friends just call him Fenriz... leader, owner, principal and authoritarian of Norway’s Darkthrone. The name itself sends shivers up your spine. The realm of Black Metal to this day is primarily still subterranean; there is so much listeners and devotees of the genre simply don’t know or understand about its origins, over the years we continue to uncover this style; peel back its many layers, some confronting, others liberating yet along the way we require people who have lived through it and more importantly who had shaped it to be our guide. The following exchange between Metal As Fuck andthe illusive Fenriz Nagall was educational, of course; reflective and straight. From the adoration of the 80’s, radio Fenriz, to the recent ‘please don’t vote for me’ election; all the way to his cat Nugatti - we have all.

Arctic Thunder – the long awaited follow up to (2013’s) The Underground Resistance and the bands 17th Fucking album - tell us about the drive behind the album and what ultimately lead you in this direction? “I can't speak for Ted [Skyjellum aka Nocturno Culto] here, I imagine that he always just makes music from his own head, inspired by himself, sitting down with his guitar and making it, but that would be pure guesswork on my end. Me, on the other hand, I had a vision for THIS album Arctic Thunder that I would make Darkthrone a bit more introvert this time. Why? Since we FINALLY got our own studio again (thanks to Ted's initiative back in 2005) we've been making a lot of freestyle records, many of the songs having lots of glint in its eyes. However, our last album shaved away some of the many styles we play and was a bit more serious but still incorporating heaps of different styles. We were very pleased with The Underground Resistance and personally I was wondering how to top it. So years went by and I felt the same way. That album was some kind of mammoth for us and it was hard to deal with the fact that we would either have to kill that mammoth or go around it. The latter was chosen and I opted to shave away some more styles, leaving my usual knack for writing speed metal songs in the way of the Swedish 1983-1985 style behind.

So what was there for me to make? Slow heavy metal. When slowly we decided to try for another album; back in the middle of 2015, I had in fact four albums in mind. This doesn't mean that I will sit down and listen to the albums and try to copy anything, but it's more like a road map. Or after hearing music my whole life I choose away all of those thousands of albums and songs I do not want my inspiration to latch on to – instead creating a vision of a direction that I do want to delve into. The four albums were Dream Death Journey Into Mystery (1987 New Renaissance Records), Sacrilege Within The Prophecy (1987 Under One Flag), Black Sabbath Mob Rules (1981 Warner Bros.) and Candlemass Epicus Doomicus Metallicus (1986 Black Dragon Records). After all the songs were recorded and I was given a copy of the recorded album from Ted, I discovered that there was; for instance nothing on my songs that reminded me of Candlemass so you can see that I am not exactly working like a robot or anything. However there were riffs on my songs that had the feel of the other three albums, and also some Iron Maiden, some Hellhammer, some early Exodus and some Autopsy and Necrophagia 1987 style and so on”

“A riff will typically come like striking lightning into my brain and then I will have to hum it until I reach my guitar or I will have to record it on my phone. From there I will typically play that riff and start to make other riffs that will fit. Who knows how I make that process work and what inspires me but it is just me and that guitar and all the music I ever heard; and that, ladies and gentlemen, is A LOT. I will tell you a secret here – what I am really trying to write is what I would have written in 1988 if one; I had the writing skills and drum experience back then and two; if we didn't go into more death metal territory, which we did in late 1988/early 1989. What I am writing is the real original Darkthrone music, back to the real roots. It’s always said in biographies about us online that we started out as a Death Metal band but listening to our first demo it is clear to everyone that we did not, we had all sorts of inspirations that were way older than that”.

Darkthrone possess a trademark style of Black Metal and although the style has gained momentum (dare I say it, popularity) over the years, the band stand their ground with traditions – what traditions in particular speak the most within the music of Darkthrone? “The 80s. I guess maybe 35-40% of our works can be black metal but we started out different from that back in late 87. A limited varied style of various 80s metal but a vast love for it. I even ripped off perfect strangers - Deep Purple perhaps; middle riff on our first demo for instance. So we had many changes until we ended up playing spaced out technical dark death metal in 1990 and then went very retro again with our style since march 1991, really. Our styles are just tapping into the endless carousel of 80s metal and the earlier times which led to 80s metal, I guess".

Do you feel traditions need to be upheld within the genre at all times? And where can they be bent? “Well, we went freestyle completely in 2005 so I am not the right person to answer this question as I always listened to vast amounts of different metal and rock but the black metal style has developed many branches of genres and in the metal world, as of now it has room for it all. There aren't any major genres that are squishing the life out of other genres, not anymore anyway. The revolution with everyone getting computers and then YouTube and so on made everyone just listen to everything more and it was easier to check out the history of genres so that people understood how it was all put together”.  

How does Darkthrone go about creating fresh material for a genre which will forever stand frozen in time? “There are a lot of styles of the 80s that need to be elaborated on more, or brought to light more perhaps like Bloodspill demo and while this is happening people out there are also trying new things and there is room for that even though I don't have to like it, I am not working in national radio with certain editorial commitments, on my radio Fenriz I just play from the 1000+ promos I get every year and I play the songs I think are best. We haven't had a genre other than various metal and so on since at least 2005 and we also didn't in our first year so if we are challenging anything it's people that are still just into a couple of styles, maybe”.  

You have mentioned previously that when you are writing lyrics for Darkthrone tracks, you get into a zone and this zone is never spoken of again, never revisited – describe this daunting cavity of your brain... That's what I mean with not going down there again, when the lyric is finally down on paper, finished, it is just that. Finished. Meaning I am finished with it. Poets shouldn't necessarily explain their poetry, doesn't make it better. And this time I wrote closer to poetry than in a long time. I use a lot of nature metaphors because nature is a strong force and suitable for heavy metal and beyond”.  

During the early days of Darkthrone and as Death Metal grew safe and stagnant for a brief period, Darkthrone found an increasing allure in the yet to be defined black metal style – what was it about Black Metal that ultimately drew you in? “It was always around, just not in large volumes, back in the 80s many times death, black and thrash would exist in one and the same band as in some primordial soup. As early as first Possessed album and it was glorious. However the 80s were a hectic decade and riffs were seldomly played more than 4-6 times. Thus and album like Under The Sign Of The Black Mark from Bathory was way ahead of its time with its monotony and early 90s saw a new decade more ready for monotony and Von and Burzum benefited from that and a lot of the Norwegian bands did. Didn't take long for the songs to become less monotonous but that right there is one of the explanations why people looked to black metal, we understood the coldness and monotony of Under The Sign Of The Black Mark and we all struck at the same time. So a lot of albums we had had for a long time were suddenly being emphasized after death metal started to wane in 89 and 90 so you can say we went retro. Then we fuelled it with Motorhead and Venom and Black Sabbath as well. Great cocktail”.

 

The stigma that has (and will continue) to surround Black Metal since the early 90’s – what are your thoughts on this? Good press, bad press; both? “It doesn't do much to my daily life, if I led a life touring and meeting new people and doing face to face interviews a lot with the meet and greets and all that it would but this is exactly the lifestyle that never appealed to me. My strength is listening alone and with that outlook the 90s doesn't matter much. I meet this reality when I do all these interviews after each album, and apart from that I don't see it much. But because of all the interviews I will always see my life in retrospect. But I see all parts of it, also from the 70s and 80s and beyond the 90s, not my fault if people wanna focus on the lame 90s” [Laughs]

Over the past 20 odd years what has grown stronger in your mind about the band Darkthrone and what it represents? “Next year it's 30 years for us and the answer would be the same if ya ask 20 or 30 and it would maybe be different from time to time as I hate to repeat myself and that leads to me saying all kinds of stuff that is also contradictory [Laughs] I just think we represent a healthy mix of metal played honestly and hard”.  

 

How has the band and members managed for nearly thirty years to stay on the metal underground scene? Distance. Not getting in each other’s faces’. What has changed for the band over these 30 years and what has remained the same? “In 30 years, what remains the same? We are certainly not the same but people ask us if we wanna play live and we don't and I haven't wanted that since 1991 at least, so that stayed the same. I think our inspirational sources are always the same, but every time one listens to an old album or demo something new could pop up. But mostly not. But when you have a lot of inspirational sources you can always emphasize some and draw others more in the background and vice versa”.

A reluctant Politian – take us through the wildly entertaining situation of you finding yourself elected to your local Council? Thus having to go sit there and (in your own words) ‘Feel stupid among the straight people.’ The reason I don't comment on it is that for anyone not living here, local politics are not wildly entertaining. I have reached a place in my life where I do NOT answer an unknown number. But oh that day, that fateful day (early 2015), I was waiting for electricians to show up to change our spotlights from normal to LED. So I took the phone. One of the pleasant leaders of Venstre, it was *insert Yoda speech here*. I had the best childhood times here and children and middle schooling was superb, and the second we moved to the south side of the Gjersjøen Lake from here I missed Kolbotn. That was the summer of 1987 and each year I yearned. More and more. I also moved to Oslo there for a while but never longer than 15 kilometers away from here. So each year I would go back here, take walks, visit friends and just feel that shiver in my bones and soul. After I got married in 2013 I was so obsessed that I had one of my bicycles in the forest here; in 3 different spots altogether so I could reach more ground on my trips back. I think in 2012 or 2013 I had forty or so trips back here, so even though my day job place had moved to the very wrong side of Oslo, we decided to move back anyway. I had already subscribed to the local newspaper for a while and had also written in it about my whole process of moving back here. Adorable, I'm sure! [Laughs] And Darkthrone is probably the most well known international act from Kolbotn so you can say I had a name here”.

 

“And so I thought that, even though I never voted for Venstre earlier (the small party right smack bang in the centre of the Norwegian political axis of 9 main parties), this could be a good opportunity for me to find out more about how my burrow actually works. I cared so much about the place already and I would surely find out more now. Every political party that wants to run for election to get candidates has to have a certain number of people on the list. Common problems in Norway are that parties lack list candidates. They said I would be “safe” down on the list as number 18 cirka and that chances of being elected was minimal. A bright leader of the party said that she wanted to Facebook post that I'd said yes with the press statement which was a short interview/presentation of me saying that I was very busy, had little time and much work and really needed my calendar as empty as possible. And living it up with a photo with our cat, Nugatti.

 

“Come September and the election, and I had half forgotten about it all when the head honcho called me and asked if I was ready for my tasks. I had gotten a whole load of votes both from others and the ones that voted for Venstre and I was suddenly #4 on the list which is here called 2nd VARA and the last town hall meeting where we vote yay or nay to local political decisions was on Monday this [last] week. I feel I represent Kolbotn as being one of the known figures from here and I attend the home games of the soccer women here - currently ranked #4 in the country, we have a long tradition for women’s soccer here, I even tattooed the sports banner back in the 90s. I am in the local newspaper here and there, I like to be here all the time and bike around or walk, I pick litter up and so on. I am also the initiative-taker of Hellerasten Fotballklubb; a soccer practice system for a lot of the musical personalities from here and other friends and locals”.

 

“Let's just say that I am very enthusiastic about the area and have always been”.

 

“I am supposed to check the town halls web every day to read political documents but this is a formality and those political documents are taken care of by certain special groups or the upmost leaders of the local parties. What I have to do by law is step in at the town hall meetings and vote if #1 or 2 can't make it. Apart from that I find it useful to attend most group meetings and also check the documents on the town hall webpage from time to time. As everything else almost in this life now, there are a lot of emails, yeah. I got voted in for 4 years so I’ve got 3 years left and then we'll see. I really do not have time for this as I have my radio show, the Darkthrone job, the music journalist job, and working part time 70% in the postal industry, where I have time to hear all the promos that enable me to do the radio and journalist jobs. I am always thinking of retiring... Yeah, like that’s gonna happen, I am alive to spread other peoples' music and I am thinking this is one of the first interests that has to go because of time issues”.

Fenriz has informed me that Darkthrone intend to tour Canberra extensively from March 2017 until April 2033. I hold him to that promise...