What can I say that hasn’t already been said about the goddamn mighty Darkthrone? It’s been three years since I last interviewed drummer/co-vocalistFenriz, so naturally I jumped at the chance for a second round of interrogation upon the release of Darkthrone’s sixteenth(!) album, the ridiculously awesome The Underground Resistance. I mean shit, it isn’t every day you get the chance to interview your favorite fucking band.
THKD: There was a three year gap between Circle the Wagons and The Underground Resistance. What were you doing during that time and how did it affect your contributions to the new album?
Fenriz: First of all, two of the tracks of the album were finished, recorded, before “Circle the Wagons,” was out in spring 2010, and I also had the refrain – notes (not lyrics) ready for ‘Valkyrie.’ But let’s also point out that this was the end of the second wind of Darkthrone, with so many releases 1988-1996, and then the second wind from ‘99-2010 with 8 albums. A second wind like that is extremely rare for bands. I think a break would have forced it’s way, either way. But alas, in 2010 we both got life altering situations as we both got new girlfriends from TOTEN. Also, the lyrics for ‘Valkyrie’ didn’t materialize until October 2010 and most shockingly, the rest of the song didn’t appear until September 2011. Then in 2012 we had another two trips to the studio (we record when we have one song each, did that since 2005) and then it was basically done in June 2012, but again it took many months until the album was out, just like in the old days.
THKD: What bands past or present were influencing you this time around as you were crafting your three songs for The Underground Resistance? All three have a very epic, anthemic feeling, compared to Nocturno Culto’s more down ‘n’ dirty approach.
Fenriz: As vividly explained in the album booklet [note: my promo did not include the booklet. -THKD], it’s a bit like this, and this is what I THINK it’s inspired by, I don’t exactly know as I don’t sit down and listen to bands and then copy it. The Ides of March-ish start of ‘Valkyrie,’ re-written with a gypsy URIAH HEEP 1970 groove to it. Then generic Scandi-early ‘80s speed metal on the verse, maybe “How Many Tears” by Helloween ’85 refrain, then extra notes at the end my usual improvisations, did that always since mid ‘80s but that stuff sounded better the last years than in the 80s to say the least. I wasn’t so good at crafting songs or making my melodies work back in ‘88, for instance. ‘The Ones You Left Behind,’ is very much Agent Steel/Savage Grace Master of Disguise album vibes, and then the middle part is the NWOBHM style of Iron Maiden ‘84, perhaps subconsciously vibes from their underrated losfer words (big orra). Unintentionally, the vocals on the refrain sound Manilla Road-ish, but I know I didn’t opt for that. ‘Leave No Cross Unturned,’ is again the Agent Steel/Savage Grace thing (talking circa ’85 here) and then a couple of Celtic Frost riffs, ’85 and ‘84 style, respectively, then a generic heavy metal riff a la ‘83, and finishing the song way later is an ending I had from an old song which reminded me of ‘87 style pentagram (US) but it kinda sounds more like the ‘Enter Sandman’ groove like it ended up here, haha.
THKD: How did the writing and recording of the new album compare to that of Circle the Wagons? It seems like the old school heavy metal sounds have fully come into bloom this time around for both of you in the riffing/songwriting department.
Fenriz: Like I said, we just record two and two songs. When we got 37-42 minutes, that’s a wrap, it’s an album. So from the inside of the Darkthrone cabin it SONG BY SONG, to everyone else it’s ALBUM BY ALBUM. No master plan, no talk about style, no nothing. We just play what we want to or need to play, follow our hearts. We meet up and show each other the songs, learn them and record immediately.
I think if we just wanted to be old heavy metal we would sound real different than this album. I think it’s just another heap of coincidences. And a plethora of metal styles from the 80s portrayed. But it’s up to everyone that hears it to have an opinion.
THKD: “Leave No Cross Unturned” is one of the longest songs you’ve written, and it feels like you’re trying to cram everything you love about heavy metal into one mega-song, almost like a celebration of the history of metal. Is this an accurate assessment? What were your intentions with this track?
Fenriz: I actually feel that the structure is rather simple, and I was clear on making repetitions, as always. Also a medley, even. But when I finally got the mix from Ted I thought it to be too long and that it would bore the listeners, I evaluated a shorter mix. I told Ted and he told me to reconsider. So I kept the long version. I didn’t have to. I will never know if I made the right choice. I think perhaps the first middle part of the song didn’t have to be repeated. I am unsure.
THKD: One thing that really stands out on The Underground Resistance is your singing. I hear a little King Diamond and maybe a little Mark Shelton, but also a harkening back to some of your vocals for Isengard. How did you come up with this unique vocal approach? When did you first realize you could sing like that?
Fenriz: During the years I have had sooooo many different voices on soooo many different projects. I was just elaborating here on the vocals that already were lying in wait on the previous albums, only I donned the angry vocals and I left the Lemmy-vocals and instead went for what I thought would suit the songs. And also I became more and more into the faster heavy metal songs of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s (speed metal) and there are 2 styles of speed, the tougher one and then the more beautiful heartfelt one, and I like both but it’s the latter that I want to contribute with myself, it has been for a while and became particularly evident with the “Circle the Wagons” title song, I think. Anyway, I don’t do King Diamond on this album, when he does castrato it’s not like real castrato, it’s more like squeeking, I am following castrato of Geoff Tate and John Cyriis which ultimately came from Halford of the ‘70s. If you want some words on King Diamond vox, I prefer when he does his clear darker notes, actually. Easily! But I grew up with Uriah Heep’s “Sweet Freedom” album, lots of castrato on it, and I have that album completely in my blood, I obsessed over it since I got it in 1974 but I didn’t know I could sing like that until I got drunk one night in 1990 and started singing to it. And then I could. It wasn’t perfect, but I could do it. So I continued singing like that many, many parties to various metal with that kind of vocals. Those who know me, know I can do it. But it’s hard in front of a mic. I first time did it on the song ‘Dommedagssalme’ by Isengard in …I think I recorded that in late ‘92 or early ‘93.
THKD: Darkthrone’s sound has evolved from death metal, to black metal, to the mixture of classic heavy/speed metal, first wave black metal and punk that characterize what you’ve been doing for the last several albums, but it was your black metal recordings that really established the band for many fans. Would you ever go back and make another pure black metal album? Is black metal dead?
Fenriz: No music is dead as long as someone listens. But focus changed, I always thought essence of black metal was for instance 1985 Bathory “The Return,” album but then it seemed like almost everyone started focusing on making it more progressive and faster and cleaner and I didn’t find the soul of black metal in many releases after 1993. But there were always TONS of maniacs making dirty old black metal too, it just got crowded by a lot of people that seemed to misunderstand it. Daft. Well, we don’t seem to really go back, do we. We go back and forth and in circles and tear down the castle and build it differently and often on a swamp (Monty Python reference) or what not. As I told earlier, we don’t discuss style or anything at all really, we just go where the winds of mayhem takes us, or wind of freedom, gotta have a little of both. But I think we always changed rather slowly, expect us to continue like that, perhaps…and I think NO ONE would believe us, or think that it was genuine if we suddenly did a black metal album now (we only did one pure black metal album, UNDER A FUNERAL MOON), I think a lot of people would question that. As they have always questioned everything we did. Whatever, I know it’s stressful with the changes because us humans change and we need some constants to feel safe maybe. But Darkthrone is a natural project, and it’s left to change as freely as humans do. In that way it’s kind of opposite to Ramones. But I still dig Ramones!!
THKD: Your “band of the week” recommendations have taken on a life of their own. Did you expect what started off as you writing about bands on Myspace to take off the way it has? Do you have any metal recommendations for THKD readers?
Fenriz: Haha, many ask this and also with the question with the recommendation at the end. But Band Of The Week ..it IS just recommendations! Haha! It’s like a cryptic thing to ask, as I would naturally say YEAH, THE RECOMMENDATIONS ARE THERE on the band of the week blogs and pages and facebook. Actually I gotta put out/post another band right after this interview. But I haven’t decided yet. I have a list of many bands and I go by gut feeling when I pull out one of the candidates. But one of the BAND OF THE WEEK bands are touring again now, DANAVA, you can try to see them live on tour now. And don’t forget to listen to HOUR OF 13!!!!!! !!!!!! !!!!!! And this concludes interview number 93 for the new album, by the way.