Leave No Cross Unturned: An interview with Fenriz of Darkthrone

Darkthrone.  The name itself conjures many different meanings for different people, yet there are none who can deny their legacy.

Although their’s is one that is measured by an unbroken line of glory when it comes to their impressive body of recorded works, with Darkthrone, it’s just as important to consider how they cut a swathe through the shameless hordes of mediocrity and false metal through the years.

Through the course of 24 years and 16 albums, Darkthrone have worked within a number of styles and genres.  They have breathed new life into many of them.  They have conquered and left an iconic impression on a few.  Without question, Darkthrone have taken destiny by the balls and left their mark all that they have touched.

All the while, Fenriz has stood fast – an ever vigilant guardian and revered keeper of the tradition, lore and dark knowledge of all that is metal.  Ove the past several weeks, music journalists have circled over his mind like vultures, looking for some sort of buried treasure.  …but not The Bone Reader.  As always, our destiny lies upon a different path.

Needless to say, we celebrate the release of Darkthrone’s latest release – The Underground Resistance.  However, in the short time that we have, we will walk the road less traveled in our discussion with Fenriz…  peering beyond the darkness into the furthest reaches of inspiration that as yet, remain largely unexplored.

Join us now, and leave no cross unturned!

– TBR

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TBR:  It’s been three years since Circle The Wagons was released.  Any particular reason for the extra time between albums?  What sorts of things have you guys been up to besides writing and recording?

Fenriz:  We got new girlfriends from TOTEN and the life altering kerfuffle that that leads to. Anyway, on our second wind of Darkthrone, we did 8 albums in 11 years (‘99-2010) so I think a break would have forced itself upon us anyway.

TBR:  There’s a shift into different territory with the sound on The Underground Resistance.  More “sturm and drang”, a little less crust.  Can you tell the people a bit about how this shift in the sound occurred?  What were the discussions like between you and Ted when you first thought of making the shift?

Fenriz:  We never discuss or plan. Since summer 1991 we have been clear on the fact that we make songs on our own and record everything. If we DID discuss, it would be strange that my songs are always so incredibly different to Ted’s, no? So that’s a proof right there. We were never really crust, we just wanted a clear honest sound with a primitive portable studio, the kinda punk I was inspired by was that of PUKE (Sweden ‘85-87) which was a mix of punk and Iron Maiden – to put it bluntly. Crust is more CRUSTIER sound-wise and often way more brutal and aggressive than us. Apart from that, I had a ‘79-83 Motorhead take on things which also punked up some of the metal.

On this album, I did just clear speed metal vocals and some Celtic Frost vox too, and the songs coincidentally were altogether more metal in full, and then Jack Control gave us a real phat organic bass punch as well, I think that was the stuff that pushed us a division upwards now.

TBR:   I know that you’re not a very political guy these days, but the title is an obvious rallying cry against certain things.   Apart from the own war against the shitty, plastic, over-compressed production sound that plagues modern metal…  What other sorts of issues modern world are you fighting against, if any?

Fenriz:  Just today I decided blindly to listen to one of the follow cd of the World’s biggest metal mag (from Germany) and I could easily hear that the war against soulless drivel is FAR from over. Twelve tracks, one was ok (and that was a new Accept track with the usual mindless asphalt heavy that made them so cool in late ‘70’s and very early ‘80s) 3 was good (Venenum, new Angel Witch track and Horisont) and the rest was just the kind of stuff the underground resistance out there MUST battle. For if kids are meeting “metal” with that kind of plastic daftness, there will always be a battle to be had.

Dan A. Nachtnebel-1

TBR:  One of the things that stands out about The Underground Resistance is that rather than having a very straight, uniform kind of sound from end-to-end, it really contrasts different sounds and ideas that you and Ted came up with – perhaps more so than any other previous album.  For me, it really works when you consider that you guys have already done so many albums that dig deeply into the same vein from start to finish.

Was this a conscious development or has it just sort of worked out that way?  Tell us about some of the discussions between you and Ted when it came to this aspect of things.

Fenriz:  Very strange, because for the last 22 years we wrote songs on our own and we have a VERY different take on things. I think our albums were always WAY too varied (except Transilvanian Hunger but then I made that alone in two weeks, was bound to be in the same vein as itself). I think since HATE THEM we’ve just been all over the place free-styling various metal styles. We don’t discuss, we don’t even discuss years later on the commentary discs!! I make my songs and he makes his. We first meet the material the day we meet to record and then it’s recorded an hour-some hours later. And especially the last 5 albums, we recorded two and two songs each time and then met up again when we had another track each…always a bit different sounding than last time. That is just the way we worked since 2005, I can see the strengths in that (two and two songs get full focus) but many want the production of an album to be 100% the same and they think that it’s not optimal. Whatever.

TBR:  You’ve really reached deep with the vocals this time.  There are a couple of places where “Leave No Cross Unturned” that just blow you away.   Have you always had that kind of range and ability or was it something that you’ve been working up to?

Fenriz:  Always been the man of 18 voices, but singing Geoff Tate/Rob Halford/John Cyriis screams, like at the very first of ‘Leave No Cross Unturned’, is difficult for me in front of a microphone, did it once on an Isengard track (‘Dommedagssalme’ from the first album) only. But at parties and out on the town I’ve been doing that stuff since I discovered I could actually do it around 1991, hehe. Ever since I began doing my shitty vocals in early ‘87 I’ve been doing different stuff. I mean, there’s a time and a place for everything.

TBR:  Obviously, you and Ted are like brothers.  Still, for most guys who work so closely through the years, there are going to be a few scraps and scrums along the way.  How does it go down when one of you guys isn’t into an idea that the other has?  Is it all kept pretty civilized or do you guys get into it?  Have you got any funny stories or maybe serious thoughts about things you’ve learned working together?

Fenriz:  No, we have very little contact, we don’t have to as we work on our own. Every man for himself. We just record together that’s all. He moved far away in 1992, by the way.

Darkthrone

 

TBR:  I want to go back to your thoughts on the production and sound of so many modern metal albums.  Triggered drums, “plastic” sounding mixes…  Obviously, you guys know how you wanted things to sound on The Underground Resistance and every album before.  Are you guys deep into the vintage gear or do you not really give a fuck and just use whatever is on hand?  Any particular equipment that is particularly near and dear to you guys?

Fenriz:  You gotta ask Ted about that, I just play really HARD at some whatever drum kit I bought some years ago, as the previous one had been slowly stolen away by bastards when I used it to practice with Valhall at BORGEN rehearsal facilities. Bastards. No, we know what we DON’T want (Germans seem to love real plastic drum sound and now low end stuff, which is strange because then it’s a miracle that they would even bother to hear ‘70s black Sabbath). I think Scandy and great Britain and US are keeping that low end flame burning, and thanks a lot for that, because that soulless sound I’ve mentioned quickly started to take total control over the metal realm almost after its early stages in the ‘80s. It’s like a disease we gotta fight. It didn’t exist, this sound, in the ‘70s, so I also hold the older sounds very dear.

So what we know is that the BASS drum obviously has to have a very round BASSY sound to it, of course, and then the snare has to communicate with it. Already here, these two simple points, most acts FAIL. Epically. So get your shit together folks. Almost optimal drum sound would be INTO THE NIGHT by SWEET. If you need an example. We can’t get THAT great sound, but at least we’re not going in an opposite direction.

TBR:  It’s great that in spite of all the success you guys have had, you’ve never compromised and let money spoil things.  To this point, I can only imagine the sort of financial offers that have come in to have you guys play one of the big festivals or some special show.  It’s more a comment on my part, but to anyone that’s stuck on the early Darkthrone records and takes a shitty attitude towards the new stuff, I think this is one of the things that shows how much integrity that you guys really have.

Fenriz:  What you mention just makes me think of all the bands that MAKE IT but get tired (of course) of their own style but feel they can’t change cos they finally have a gravy train. It’s sad.

TBR:  There was something that you mentioned a short time before The Underground Resistance was officially released regarding the title of the new album.  You said that “It’s also a bit of a nod to the faceless techno movement from Detroit, of course. A silent nod to those guys, who are also doing techno the way it was done in the ‘iron age’ of techno, around 1991 and 1992.”

Mad Mike

 

On the one hand, it surprised me to hear that you had any interest in that sort of music.  On the other hand, I grew up in Detroit during those years and it’s easy to see that there are certain parallels with what UR (Detroit) and Darkthrone are all about:  Both are completely true to what’s at the heart of the music and have a deeper commitment and “carry the torch” in their respective genres.

Fenriz:  I thought everyone knew, haven’t exactly kept it a secret, there are nods to Matthew Herbert in liner notes in ‘99 or 2001 as well, and Gene Farris on the other of those two albums. Been mentioning it in many interviews, dj’ing it here in Oslo on and off in eclectic sets for 13 years and since 1995 when I bought decks I could beatmix with I spread around 40 mixtapes to interested people in the metal community here in Norway. Then I finally made a mix for VICE mag last year or the year before, DJ FENRIZ the human touch (cos I dj old school with 1210’s).   

TBR:  Can you tell us a bit about how you came to be aware of Detroit techno movement and a bit more about your thoughts about some of the things within that movement that make it worthwhile?

Fenriz:  When I got into the sounds it was late ‘92 and there was no internet to help me seek out styles. I just had to buy vinyls, shitloads upon shitloads and try and fail. Some were Detroit, some of the first good ones were the first Red Planet, the martian stuff, and then an UR vinyl, Rings of Saturn. Got those in early ‘93 I guess. Read about the faceless low fi take on their crew in some mag some years later I reckon. It was one outta MANY styles I like, so I’m not all over just that style AT ALL. Deep, deep house is my fave, but I always gotta mix it up with heaps and heaps of other styles when I listen to mixes. I’ve used insane amounts of time and money on it these last twenty years. Also got a Plastikman tattoo in 1995 or ‘96.

TBR:  … [encoded transmission] …

Fenriz:  Drexciya, sure, electro old school stuff, difficult to mix properly, electro, and the style isn’t really for mixing either, many of the tracks are meant to be listened to one by one, especially so with Drex.  My fave electro stuff is probably E.R.P.

TBR:  There are a million and one corny black metal bands who dabble with keyboards trying to get spooky sounds.  I can’t get enough of shitting on those sorts of projects but perhaps there are a few good ones, as well.  Personally, I find it more interesting to see those few artists who have a project that is purely 100% metal and are also doing separate projects electronics on the side – for example, Hospital Productions (Vatican Shadow/Ash Pool) and the bizarre shit that comes out Auris Apothecary.

Fenriz:  Haven’t heard those, usually they can’t really let the metal go in their side projects, but there’s gotta be some exceptions to that rule, hehe. . To me, it was normal to have some synth choir on tracks, but nothing can beat Rotting Christ track “Feast of the Grand Whore” on their Satanas Tedeum demo from ‘89. That shit WORKS!!!

TBR:  To me, it’s a rare but extremely ballsy thing to promote these two seemingly different sounds on the same labels.  Do you have any thoughts on this?  Have you heard any effective examples of this sort of thing?  Is it blasphemy??

Fenriz:  I think Peaceville was risky when they did stuff like KONG and GGFH back in the day, I think the lust and want to release all kinds of synth music is as big as rock based stuff. Limited stuff, it plays well with the art community. But it was a looong time since I got into synth stuff, after I did my sorry ass synth albums I lost interest in listening to ambient stuff forever. I’m a slave to the RHYTHM!!!

TBR:  Everybody recognizes that Norway has made tremendous contributions to the history of metal.  Besides Darkthrone, who have undoubtedly earned their place already, who are the three best Norwegian metal bands today??

Fenriz:  I think we gotta thank Mayhem. And Metalion’s Slayer mag. But we weren’t focused on Norway in the underground of course, it was the whole world that was interesting, BANDS not countries!! That was the law of the ‘80s and is still the law today.

TBR:  Truthfully, I got on rather late with Taake but personally, Noregs vaapen is right up there as one of my favourite albums of recent times.  Nocturno Culto is credited with some background vocals and I assume that both you and Ted have gotten to know Hoest a bit.  He does not give interviews, but any good stories about hanging out with him?  Overall, where do you think that Taake stands when it comes to the legacy of Norwegian metal?

Fenriz:  As far as I know I never met him. He had some decent early ‘90s vibes on earlier albums, but I’m more of an ‘80s black metal style dude myself.

TBR:  When it comes to the United States, there are tons of people who paint every USBM band with the same brush and say that it’s all a bunch of crap.  What do you say?  Any of them that you’d hold up to prove the naysayers wrong?  It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on how the USBM movement fits into the grand scheme of things…

Fenriz:  I don’t live in that world.  You had great black metal within bands like Possessed, Necrovore, NME for instance. Where’s the focus on that? And then Von and Negative Plane and The Return? I think journos love labels too much, that’s why USBM has become a term? I’m not even sure I’ve heard it, but if it sounds like WEAKLING did (which I think maybe was very early USBM in that respect) then it’s fine by me. But everything gets watered out once a term is established. I remember when MOST US people discovered black metal, in ‘98, then they thought Emperor was the leading band, hshahahahahahaa oh brother. Their demo was good though.

Let’s just all listen to the second Bathory album once more and take it from there, huh?

TBR:  One thing I know that we agree on:  Celtic Frost is second to none when it comes to the greatest metal bands of all time.  What are your three favourite tunes by Celtic Frost (or Hellhammer, if you prefer).  If you can’t do “all time favourites”, pick the three you like best today.

Fenriz:  IMPORTANT ones are of course Third of the Storms, Messiah (here we have two different tempos that both led to black ‘n roll, partly invented by myself, but Hellhammer really invented black’ n roll cos I think he had his own style and mixed some ‘79-81 Motorhead style into his own again) and with Celtic Frost you could take anything up to and with the to Mega Therion album but let’s say Necromantical Screams or Visual Aggression (we covered that live with Ted on drums and me on guitar and vox on the famous bootleg stage of Oslo in fuckin ‘89!)

It’s just…the simplicity but outlandish note choices of Tom G. Warrior’s riff made me believe I could start my own band. I also thought a band as untight as Cryptic Slaughter proved that anyone could start a band. Those were the main factors I started Black Death in Xmas ‘86 (I didn’t know about the other Black Death at the time, of course) and then also I thought first Slayer album “Show No Mercy” (‘83, still GODLY!!!) was kinda untight version of Iron Maiden in parts, so that also gave me hope, haha!

TBR:  Last question:  I don’t have to ask “Are you morbid?” so let’s talk about death.  What will be written on your tombstone?  …and Ted’s, while we’re at it??

Fenriz:  Not sure if we go for tombstones, I mean Ted has always moved away from people and in death you wanna be huddled in with the rest at a graveyard? Then again, few things are more metal than graveyards so it’s also unthinkable NOT to be buried. Either way I’m fine with my ashes being spread on one of my fave locations in the vast forests around Oslo. My epitaph should say “helped put the bass back in the bass drums”.  Ted’s could read “stay away, white magician” although it’s actually me who uses that quote all of the time (from Mercyful Fate).

 

Darkthrone – The Underground Resistance is OUT NOW on Peaceville Records

BUY IT HERE!!

 

Photos by: Ashley Maile and Dan Nachtnebel