By Danger Coolidge
Unbelievably Bad Editor
It feels as though Darkthrone’s soulside journey has come full circle. The new album from the Norwegian black metal vets, Arctic Thunder, takes an inward turn away from hellraising blackpunkthrash stylings to realise the band’s early vision of raw, grim, none-more-black metal.
Drummer Fenriz tells UB about this sombre mood swing, his decision to hand all vocal duties back to vocalist/guitarist Ted ‘Nocturno Culto’ Skjellum, and the band’s return to their old bomb shelter jam space with Chet Atkins watching on…
The themes on Arctic Thunder seem heavier/more serious than some of the more recent offerings. What has you feeling this way, exploring what I gather are more serious subjects for you?
Peoples’ minds have all kinds of depths, with this album we had to make changes cuz we were so pleased with the previous one [The Underground Resistance] – sorta felt like the end of the station. So when I got back from the camping trip and saw the bonfire photo and realised it must be the next album cover…things slowly went in the direction of me realising a more sombre, diecast direction on the new album. No more singing for me, no more beautiful speed metal ala Sweden 82-85 for me, Ted singing the whole album, me only doing slow heavy metal…it kinda paved the way for damn serious lyrics. My lyrics are probably the best I ever wrote. Ted’s lyrics, only he saw those – he doesn’t even have them on the inner sleeve of our album. Here’s more: I can’t speak for Ted 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 (talking again about my own take on making new songs here) and I opted to shave away some more styles, leaving my usual knack for writing speed metal songs in the way of the Swedish 1983-85 style behind. So what was there for me to make? SLOW HEAVY METAL. When slowly decided to try for another album (back in the middle of 2015) I had four albums in mind [as inspiration]. 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 were 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 some 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) and what I choose away and that little tiny spec that I decide to keep. I will tell you a secret here – what I am really trying to write is what I would have written in 1988 if 1) I had the writing skills and drum experience back then, and 2) 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 always says 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.
Why don’t we get to hear any of your bellowing on the new album? Only Ted on vocals this time?
I answered that already but if you want more info: since I decided for a more serious approach, and also more introvert (which includes the decision to have Ted sing on everything, a decision that was cemented in me by listening to the Swedish band Anguish and their album Mountain).
Since we have never heard nor seen nor felt the power of the band playing live, can you please describe for us the feeling when you and Culto are in your space physically and in your zone musically.
Haha, no I can’t! We are just trying to do our best. I am always nervous as fuck since I have just learnt Ted’s song, for instance, and I know we are recording and I want to get it right while simultaneously BEATING THE HELL out of my drum kit. I have NO IDEA how Ted feels but recording makes me extremely nervous. Making my songs, I am not nervous at all. TOTALLY different feeling – it’s enjoyable and almost never difficult. Here’s more: I moved back home here to Kolbotn/Tårnåsen in 2013/2014, just 200 metres away from our old rehearsal space. I pulled some strings in the local community (thanks Nicklas and Morten B.) and finally had the key to the old bomb shelter. Back in the day it was the Cold War and up here, every population of ca. 350 had to have a bomb shelter – it also had to be constantly empty to house people in case of nuclear war. This meant that every single rehearsal we had there meant getting ALL the equipment from a side room to the garages on ground level, carry it down to the shelter and set everything up. After rehearsals we had to dismantle EVERYTHING and carry it back up to the little storage space. When we got the record deal with Peaceville in early 1990 I said to my parents that “we have a record deal now, we can’t rehearse like that anymore, we have to rehearse at our house”. So we did. Thanks, parents. But half a year later the Cold War ended and we could have continued to rehearse there without all the hassle of setting up and taking down all equipment. Haha! C’est la vie.
So in August 2015, Ted and me drove to our previous recording spot (thanks, Kjell Arne) and fetched all of our equipment and set it up in the old bomb shelter. It still had the same smell, only difference is that many other bands rehearse there and the old Chet Atkins Me and My Guitar poster wasn’t there. The janitor said he had to take it down because of water damage. I went home and found the album cover online and printed it out and put it back up. NOW we were back in business. We met up in September with two songs each ready to be recorded and then again in December, same procedure. How we recorded for Arctic Thunder is that we mic up the drums, mic up a guitar amp, no wall between so that the guitar will leak into the drums and vice versa. Then put the studio on red (recording) and play till we are satisfied. That means it is a very live situation, playing very loud. We don’t do much with the sound afterwards because we can’t, it’s a very primitive studio. Then Ted takes his equipment and the studio back to his home in Skien and records bass and solo and does vocals. Then I get a copy and tell what levels need to be adjusted (for this album I said, “Ted, it sounds so muffled. Treble it up a bit before the mastering process”). And then it is sent off to mastering, again to Jack Control at Enormous Door Mastering in Texas, like our previous album. And there you have the final product. One master for CD, one for vinyl.
Darkthrone does not play live. How many promoters have tried to coax you back onstage, and what is your stance at to why it will (probably?) never happen?
Not THAT many, but enough. Normally it’s you journalists that bring it up, like RIGHT HERE NOW. We have day jobs. I couldn’t just write a book on the reasons I don’t play live, I could write a book SERIES about it! Let’s just say that I was always an album person, can’t recreate the soundscape of an album live. And also I don’t like crowds.
In regards to the “latest sounds”, what are you hearing that pleases you, and what are you not hearing right now?
Blast beat DM with modern slick production with clicky bass drums and cookie monster vocals, I erase ca. 100 of those promos every year. I get over a 1000 promos every year and I keep 25% of it for listening the whole albums and rating them. Half of that again ends up on my radio show. And 10-20% of THAT again ends up in my vinyl collection. This year it’s been slow the first six months, not that many greats. Black Viper, Vulture Ripper from Chile, Blood Ceremony, Hexvessel, Naevus, Spell, Tarot, Eternal Champion, Virus, Sumerlands are some that I have got so far on vinyl this year, except Black Viper which is just a tape/sound files.
Arctic Thunder is out through Peaceville, available in Australia from nervegas.com.au