by Andrew Wilhelm (CHI)
There's the Glimmer Twins. There's the Toxic Twins. And then there's the grimmest duo of them all - Gylve "Fenriz" Nagell and Ted "Nocturno Culto" Skjellum, known the world over as Darkthrone.
Fenriz and Nocturno Culto have had a interesting creative trajectory. Darkthrone began as a death metal band, but possessed by Bathory and Venom, they morphed into the black metal institution that would shape the genre. Transilvanian Hunger, their best known album, is a cold, hypnotic masterpiece that, for better or (definitely) worse, has been imitated throughout the world. Nowadays, Darkthrone just wanna ROCK. Since the beginning of the 00s, they've incorporated more punk and traditional heavy metal into their sound. Their latest, Circle the Wagons, is more of a dirty heavy metal album than a punky black metal album, and it is arguably the best out of their new direction. Fenriz himself is a vocal critic of modern metal, and uses Darkthrone's myspace to run one of the best music blogs dedicated to finding forgotten old-school and old-school-at-heart metal. His mixtapes for Vice are also well worth checking out.
I spoke with the legendary Fenriz via e-mail about Wagons, crust punk, whether he'll bring back Neptune Towers, and more.
[Ed. note: We were so taken with Fenriz's quirky and idiosyncratic capitalization, spelling and formatting that, although it would break from our normal editorial policy, we decided to leave his answers completely unchanged.]
Crustcake: First, since the blog I write for is named Crustcake, what's your taste in crust?
Fenriz: first of all, i got into punk through various ORIGINAL punk bands, so i never had a "direction" at all, i like everything as long as it has at least a bit raw or organic sound. with crust i assumed it was d-beat laden ugly sounding stuff that also had metal in it for some reason. i think i actually like all kinds of punk. from Discipline from Holland to Haggis to Septic Death to Dead Boys to new york dolls and the Sonics and Christian Death 1st album to Bad Religion to Amebix to His hero is Gone to World Burns To Death to Judge to Concrete Sox to No For An Answer to Crumbsuckers to Ramones etc etc etc
Crustcake: Circle the Wagons seems to me more of a dirty heavy metal album than a black metal record. What sort of direction were you going for in the new record?
Fenriz: yeah, well the way i see it we haven't really played black metal since the 2004 SARDONIC WRATH and that was 5 albums ago, and also that album had way much more than black metal on it. we started out in 1988 as a mix between punk and more and more metal to deaththrash to technical horror death metal to black metal and then back to metal punk and heavy metal and speed metal/nwobhm style again. the circle was completed but more like an outwards spiral as we keep accumulating more and more experience and knowledge about more and more music and bands
we don't discuss musical direction, in our world that would be artificial, we have made songs on our own and ALL should be recorded and accepted - that code was started after the recording of A BLAZE IN THE NORTHERN SKY in 1991!
but i can tell you what I went for, i made songs because they came to me, but the little power i have over my creations, i tried to pull some of it in the direction of early us metal like AGENT STEEL '1985 or early Swedish speed metal songs from early 80s
Crustcake: In general, what about raw/unpolished production appeals to you?
Fenriz: everything. when a child is faced with the first hearing of FUZZ rock it either likes it or not. if it likes it, it likes RAW music. and anything RAW should be free in the nature, hence ORGANIC. in the shops you can BUY meat but it lies on PLASTIC trays.
Crustcake: "Stylized Corpse" and "I am the Working Class" both discuss class. What inspired the concepts for these songs?
Fenriz: not the way i see it, i can not discuss the lyrics, atleast not for Teds song STYLIZED, discussing lyrics kinda kills the song. but i am the working class is so much more, it tells why i don't play live, why i don't MEET many people or TRAVEL (all day, so i don't have to see your face) and the lyrics are also explaining the difference between me and all those who lose touch with reality only touring and living just off the music. but that's the way I see it. others think reality is meeting 40 new people everyday but i see it as shallow. but i have the right to make songs pushing MY views as much as the next man. if not, i would squander my freedom.
Crustcake: "Bränn Inte Slottet"...how did the direction of that song come about? It is definitely not like the rest of the album.
Fenriz: nah, it's an instrumental, they are usually different. it was the first song that was written for the album in summer 2008 when i saw that old swedish movie with the chant on it and i immediately made music (the first heavy part) in my head. but just the scetch, the song was pondered and mulled over in my head all through the time the rest of the songs were made and recorded (in batches as usual) until it was the last thing that was finished.
Crustcake: How does Wagons fit in with the Darkthrone canon? Do you feel the need to reconcile the newer direction with Transilvanian Hunger et. al., or do the albums compliment each other?
Fenriz: no, we never look back, always after the last song is finsished, enough to complete the album, we start writing new songs. you see these things as albums, but they are really compilations of singles that were never released - in the way that we just make a song each and record them. then repeat in the next months or so. the 4 last albums were written that way. i have to say albums, but we just make SONG BY SONG, what happens happens. just like in nature, we let coincidences rule as much as we can. it's very christian to try to obtain full control of creation, hahaha
Crustcake: What accounts for the shifting roles - performance, songwriting, etc. - in Darkthrone between yourself and Ted?
Fenriz: that's what became. what more can i say, we never lay plans, it's all very holistic, Sir.
Crustcake: The vinyl version of Wagons was released before the CD version. Was there a particular reason for that?
Fenriz: WE'RE A VINYL BAND!!!
Crustcake: Recently, Metal Haven, a metal-centric record store in Chicago, closed its doors, continuing the decline of record stores in America. Has the same been happening in Norway?
Fenriz: oh yeah, the fat-kid metal store (a friend of mine calls trendy black metal FAT KID METAL, haha, good one Andy).Got a bit of a pot belly myself, also cuz of black metal HAHAHA! but i digress. it still does mail-order, right? the kids decide what they want, and they want dvd's and video games instead of buying cd's in stores, it seem. everyone loses!
i always needed to buy vinyls from mailorder anyway, norwegian stores or any other place only had shelf space for standard stuff, it seemed, atleast from 1987 and onwards. before that the stores had what i wanted. maybe because my taste wasn't TOTALLY MANIACAL until 1987.
Crustcake: How did your relationship with Dennis Dread begin? What about his style made you want to work with him?
Fenriz: I wanted an end to all computer designed covers, so Ted said why not ask Dennis that he already knew because we had a sublabel called TYRANT SYNDICATE on Peaceville and Ted released ABSCESS on there..and their covers were drawn by Dennis. Now we finally had hand drawn covers! and we wanted the "guy" on the cover to have patches on his vest or jacket, initially we wanted real old bands like Rush and Cirith Ungol but there was talk about copyrights so i thought: OFCOURSE! we'll have underground bands instead, that we are in contact with. first it was DEATHHAMMER, then NOCTURNAL, then MORNE. then Dennis wanted to include Teitanblood as well, and since Ted and me both liked Seven Chalices we said OK!
Crustcake: What are your feelings on mainstream media/non-metallers doing reports/documentaries/etc. on black metal? Has attention from non-metal outlets been positive or negative for metal?
Fenriz: i think the people that does them are as different as those who do black metal. i think you are either not metal or un-metal, i think everyone can enjoy it- just the way i like old brazilian music. BOSSA RIO!!! and all the 150 ca other subgenres or main ones apart from metal i like.
bottom line is: i don't need a book or a documentary to BE black metal, and i pity those who think they do.
Crustcake: How was the experience being filmed for Until the Light Takes Us? I know you've said you haven't seen it - do you ever plan to?
Fenriz: no plans yet, i don't enjoy watchin myself on tv or film very much. it was soon ten years ago and i was coming out of a depression, i didn't really registered how it "felt" being filmed many times. i'm not THAT "emo", hahaha!!
Crustcake: What advice do you have for young fans of metal, being assaulted with "plastic" metal?
Fenriz: Go to the BAND OF THE WEEK blog on darkthronemyspaceofficial!!! don't listen to the free cd's that come with the glossy magazines. don't be a sucker or a chump!
Crustcake: Some people say there's no use distinguishing between "true" and "false" metal - do you agree or disagree with them?
Fenriz: HAHAHA! who are these clowns?! i have endless supplies of THIS - NOT THAT examples, but that means for every cool band i mention i have to mention some daft band. and i prefer pure focus on the cool bands. like in the band of the week blog! or the last 3 album booklets. lots of great recommendations.
Crustcake: Despite all the crap that's out there, what keeps you interested in metal?
Fenriz: i live and breathe metal, there is no quitting. i constantly keep being bombarded by new fresh bands by literally hundreds of hundreds of informants, that's how it goes being in the scene FOR LIFE. in EVERY style there is band AND great music, it's better just to face it and seek out the cool stuff. although there are genres with only crap (eurodance, hard trance, modern r'n'b etc). usually the crap has the most plastic sound.
Crustcake: I am quite a fan of your Neptune Towers project. Do you have any plans to do something with it again? Going somewhat further, is there any electronic music you're currently listening to?
Fenriz: it's 50% electronic, 50% other stuff. half of the mixes on RESIDENT ADVISOR and MNML SSGS pages are great, but then i always liked synth/electronic music since my discovery of it in the 80s, the neptune towers stuff is just a tribute to KLAUS SCHULZE or EDGAR FROESEs aqua...KRAFTWERK.. but after i finished it i couldn't stand more ambient stuff. i am a SLAVE TO THE RHYTHM and generally prefer stuff with beats in 115 bpm - 135 bpm. but there are many exceptions, like both Ted and me like DUBSTEP. but i'll always prefer dub techno to it, cuz of the tempo stuff i just mentioned.
i have had no plans making any more synth stuff at all, in 1995 it was over for me. i got burnt out because i made and participated on around 12 albums and several demos in 93-96, so i decided instead of filling my head with EVEN MORE MUSIC than emptying my head of my own music all the time. the one that heard the most music WINS!!!
Crustcake: Finally, and perhaps most importantly, where's a good place to get some drinks in Oslo?
Fenriz: i quit going out in May 2005, i have no idea what's going on in central Oslo. LAST TRAIN is always a good spot.
Crustcake: Any other comments you'd like to make? Thank you for taking the time to do this interview.
Fenriz: Hang loose and listen to DEAD MOON!!!