He was one of the first to come out in support of Iron Fist, sending us constant emails of support (and scoldings when he disagreed with our Attic review), so it was a pleasure to interview the ultimate metal fan FENRIZ. Just so happens he had an album out, too…
Phone interviews can be a bitch for a number of reasons; let me give you a nice little example. So it’s almost 3pm on a dreary weekday afternoon, and I’m swearing like a lovesick sailor at my obstinately blank Skype screen. I’m meant to be calling Fenriz “Rock ‘N’ Roll Gas Station” Nagell for an interview in roughly ten minutes, and nothing’s working. A flurry of frantic emails to him and my long-suffering editor later, I realize – fuck, it’s Wednesday. Our interview’s scheduled for Thursday. I’m what someone on this side of the pond might charitably refer to as “a knobhead”. Fast-forward 24 hours and a few effusive apologies, and I’ve finally got the phone to ring.
“Hey, Fenriz? This is Kim Kelly from Iron Fist.”
“So, Sebastian Bach is quite a character, hey?” an excited, lightly accented Scandinavian voice squawks back at me. Without so much as a “hello”, black metal’s most lovable black sheep launches straight into an extended tirade about Sebastian Bach’s career and his own doubts as to Bach’s rock ‘n’ roll credentials. “How much does he really know about music? I have no idea.”
That’s how our conversation began, and things didn’t get much tamer from then on out. Darkthrone drummer, guitarist, vocalist and walking metal meme Fenriz is a kinetic ball of energy, prone to wandering off on tangents, getting tangled up in his own stories and coming back around eventually to ask “What was your question again?” after he’d inadvertently answered it – and ten others besides. His enthusiasm is infectious, and his status as walking metal encyclopedia is more than earned; he peppers every other sentence with references to obscure Swedish bands, ’80s singers and d-beat records, but somehow it all makes sense. He and Nocturno Culto – better known to Fenriz as “Ted” – are gearing up to release their latest album under Darkthrone’s black flag, and it’s a scorcher. By now, we’ve all gotten used to the idea that the black metal band of old has loosened up, branched out and embraced their ‘80s fixation, and ‘The Underground Resistance’ is another history lesson come to life. The album is short, spanning six songs (three from Fenriz, three from Nocturno Culto) but culminates in Darkthrone’s longest song in recent memory, the 14 minute epic ‘Leave No Cross Unturned’.
“It’s twice 1985, only it’s 1985 from a couple different views,” he starts off explaining. He’s had a lot of time to ponder the structure of this song, and one can’t blame his reasoning for its surprising length. “The slower stuff on that track, the main slow riffs, are 1985 Celtic Frost, then the speed metal parts are 1985 Agent Steel. When it was finished I was thinking, ‘Oh my god, it’s hideously boring’! I was almost gnawing my own kneecaps off to get through the fucking thing, but when I was making it, I was like, ‘Woo hoo! This shit could go forever’! I did the first verse and refrain part, then started making lyrics for that and trying out vocal lines at home, and started adding the slow riffs, then realized, ‘Holy shit, I’m up to eight minutes already’! I could’ve edited it, but not after it was recorded, so I told Ted that I could fade it around nine minutes. He said he didn’t want that, and asked me to reconsider; I had half a year to reconsider, ‘cause this album was done in June, but it took awhile, and I had a lot of time to consider. The first song on ‘A Blaze In The Northern Sky’ is damn long too, though!”
‘Leave No Cross Unturned’ flirts with black metal much more purposefully than usual for New Darkthrone (patent pending), but, as Fenriz says, it’s got that old-school flavour to it. The rest of the record keeps things short and sweet.
“Short but sweeeeet!” comes the howl. “That’s a song by M.O.D, the band Billy Milano had after he quit S.O.D. – that’s song on the first album. But yeah, we’ve been doing some short but sweet stuff; for the last four albums at least we stayed around the five minute mark, so I thought, ‘Let’s just branch out for once’. We’re going back to shorter songs for the next album, ‘cause I have some songs written for that already and they’re not so damn long! You gotta remember, there are some albums out there in the history of metal that are under 30 minutes. ‘Reign In Blood’ was 28 minutes and 40 seconds, there’s a whole array of others – I don’t have a list in front of me now, I’m watching the sunset, which is awesome.
“The album is longer than the previous ones, over 40 minutes, which is a stretch for us. One thing that happened after the compact disc came into the scene was that some people thought ‘Oh yeah our band is so cool, and now we have this new format, we don’t have to stick to 40 minutes anymore, we can do 80!’ and I’m like, ‘Okay, so you have a zillion bands doing the exact same kind of death metal we’ve heard before, only with more modern clicky drum triggers, going on for 70 minutes now – noooo thank you!’ It’s like dinner! I could have two plates of dinner, so why don’t people do that? We stick to the one plate, it’s always been the one plate; it’s always been around 40 minutes for albums, and I think it should stay like that. Not everyone can like our stuff, so it must be nicer for someone who thinks it’s mediocre to listen to 40 instead of 80!”
‘The Underground Resistance’ switches up a few other elements, as well. The record was mastered by Jack Control (Severed Head Of State, World Burns To Death) at Enormous Door Studio in Texas, and boasts a warm, lo-fi production that cradles each song to its dirty little heart and deftly complements the heavy metal thunder and speed metal bite of tracks like ‘Valkyrie’ and ‘Come Warfare, The Entire Doom’. “This album is one of our least punk records,” Fenriz asserts. “Jack is a punk guy but an avid heavy metal fan, too. For this record it sounds like he brought out his ‘Morbid Tales’ ears and gave a real organic bass punch to the album. Back when I rehearsed drums, ’89-’93, I played after Yes and Watchtower and technical shit and had real ambition, and when I rehearsed, I’d use the kind of headphones you wear when you’re driving a tractor, big ass headphones. But, they make the drums sound like shit, so I’d take the headphones and put them halfway over my ears, so the front would listen for the real drums, and the other half would be covered; they’d only stay on for three minutes, but when I got them like that, my drums sounded really awesome. My drums on albums never sounded like that until Jack got to them! I finally got that good sound, so I’m a happy camper.”
At this point, I’ve got to ask Fenriz about, well, what it’s like to be Fenriz. He’s a bit more than just “the drummer of Darkthrone” though, to his immense chagrin, local press refuses to see him as anything else.
“The press here, I still get all the time ‘The drummer of Darkthrone’. It’s so degrading!” he moans. “It’s like I’m the guy that hands the baseball players their soft drinks.”
The waterboy of Darkthrone, then?
“Yeah, exactly! Though The Waterboys are a fine band,” he guffaws before resuming his rant. “I hate it. A lot of people still just write that, and it’s annoying ‘cause I’ve done shitloads of other stuff, and been trying to make music be appreciated by other people for so long!”
It’s got to be interesting coming to terms with his status as a metal persona.
“A few years ago I discovered some American artist called Patrice Rushen, did some albums in the ’70s. She ended up teaching a class called Music Appreciation at some sort of university, and I just thought that was so awesome, that she could get herself into doing that. I’ve got a lot of respect for that. There’s a million ways to make people appreciate music, I just chose to do it through the ultimate one-way communication road, Band Of The Week, without any discussion forum, thank you!” he exclaims with impish delight.
“I actually have to do one today. Last week’s was Gold from Holland, that was sort of a cheap shot for me as I didn’t have to dig, I am just enjoying the promo I got from Van Records. Sometimes I put out some Band Of The Week stuff that’s fallen between two chairs, that the underground isn’t going to pick it up, so that I can feed it to the underground. Sometimes you get totally unknown acts and sometimes ones that are a bit better known. Sometimes I’m a bit late as well, today I’m putting forth a really unknown band from the UK, sounds a bit like Salute from the UK.”
A couple hours after our interview, I braved the wilds of deepest, trendiest Dalston to catch a Necro Deathmort gig and discovered that Fenriz’s “unknown band” was none other than Bastardhammer (who share members with ND and half the local London doom scene), completing one of those weird “small world” scenarios with frightening accuracy. Since he’d brought up obscure UK metal, I figured he might be interested in noisy, bleak Northern black metallers White Medal, but upon hearing my description, Fenriz was entirely uninterested. “It’s rare that I enjoy black metal ‘cause the kind of black metal I like isn’t necessarily from 1985, but definitely from the ’80s altogether. A lot of people aren’t happy and don’t think it’s black metal until its some lame-ass ‘Transilvanian Hunger’ ripoff with some guy going ‘blearrrk, blearrrrrk’; that’s not gonna do it for me, man!”
Band Of The Week is Fenriz’s baby, and as he said, his main vehicle for heavy metal propagandising. He’s had quite a few hits (and a few misses), but gives the impression of being perpetually buried under a mountain of musty cassettes and scratched demo CDs. He doesn’t seem to mind, though (as long as said CDs are under 80 minutes). It may only be rock ‘n’ roll, but he really, really likes it.
“I’ve been cultivated since I was really tiny. My uncle gave me all these sweet ass vinyls from the ’60s when I was two or three years old, then that music education stopped because he was a junkie and my parents wouldn’t let him hang around, but by then but I had that in my blood. Then I did the whole ‘Go to school, discover AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Slayer, then Napalm Death and Morbid Angel’ thing, and, that was it for me. I didn’t want any new genres after that, and I still haven’t. When I got into the underground in ‘87, I steadily built up a whole lot of people around me that have not exactly my taste but come from different angles, and they filter out the shit, and send me the good bits! I have to do some work myself, but having all these informants is good,” he grins. “I’m still looking for Beastmilk to get bigger. They’ll probably be put out on Svart Records, and I’m hoping for people to open their ears to them. With Band Of The Week, that’s 52 weeks a year, and every band can’t be a hit. It’s been a long time since I put Beastmilk out there, but it was surprising that they didn’t hit it bigger in 2012.”
Poor Beastmilk may still be waiting for their moment in the sun, but by now we’ve all heard of one ghoulish coven of Band Of The Week alumni who are doing just fine, thanks very much indeed.
“It was beautifully staged by someone who left the band after the first album. He gave me some tracks before the demo, then the demo. He was feeding me that stuff so I had to be the first guy doing some media about it,” Fenriz reveals, looking back on his first dealings with Ghost. He first posted about them in April 2012, predicting “without a shadow of a doubt, this will be the IT-BAND of 2010 and beyond. I was sent the rough mix of their ‘Death Knell’ song already at the dawn of this new decade, and it was an instant wonderful hit in my mind and ears.” Since then, everyone’s favourite Blue Oyster Occultists headlined the first incarnation of the Fenriz-curated Live Evil fest, played Maryland Death Fest, toured the States to packed venues, signed a big major label deal and catapulted to a level as close to stardom as a band led by a Swede in a dead pope mask can get. Fenriz seems terribly pleased with the whole situation.
“What people didn’t really realise about them, and I’m not sure if they analysed their sound right, was that they had a really dry sound. A lot of people have tried it, but not with the same kind of material Ghost has. They were original with both sound and their whole take on thing. It wasn’t plastic or streamlined, they just fell perfectly into a rocket career. That’s what happened. It’s a beautiful picture, huh?” he crows. “And I haven’t seen any lame aftermath either. I haven’t heard a lot of bands trying to copy them, so they’re sort of perfect that way as well; there won’t be some wave trying to do it, so, it’s spotless!”
For reasons known only to him, Fenriz then pulled an about face and hopped back onto a prior runaway train of thought, and we were back to Sebastian Bach. I obligingly pulled up Wikipedia to thrill him with some tidbits, and he was flabbergasted to hear about Bach’s time on Broadway, muttering about seeing the ageing hair farmer guest star on ‘The Gilmore Girls’ years ago. Fenriz was still stuck on the idea of what kind of records the man collects, though. It’s a question for the ages, really – what does Sebastian Bach listen to when he’s sat at home with a beer in his hand? My money’s on Bon Jovi, but maybe Iron Fist will track him down someday and find out, to satisfy a certain Norwegian shapeshifter’s curiosity.
“Hell yeah, you’ve got more contacts than I do!” was Fenriz’s response. Turns out he’s a fan of our humble little magazine, which is the best endorsement a bunch of metal nerds like us could wish for.
“I really dig the magazine. I was hanging out with one of the guys from this great Swedish band, Dead Lord, who sound like Thin Lizzy and are gonna be big this year, and he said to me when we were hanging at a festival that I had to listen to Black Trip. I’m thinking it’s gonna be some kind of black metal, so I didn’t follow up on his lead there, and then, as I’m checking out Iron Fist numero uno, there’s this huge fantastic interview with Black Trip, and they were saying stuff in that interview that I’ve been thinking myself for years! So I got the guy’s number and said ‘Hey man, I loved what you said in the interview’, and he sends me this secret demo. I got really into that, then ordered a few copies of their single to give to some friends, and that was one of the impacts that Iron Fist actually had on me! Also, when the new song I made for Darkthrone came about, I had been reading issue number two and read an interview with an English band I still haven’t heard. This band said, ‘We’re playing heavy metal because we think that intricate fast playing of riffs is okay, but just effective; heavy, heavy metal riffs, that’s life!’ When I was reading that I had to accompany that musically in my head, and what came to me while I read that was the first riff of the new Darkthrone song, so, Iron Fist got that ball rolling, too!”
“I will write a book, if I’m lucky enough to have the time to do it. I’ll write a book about myself because the thought of other people doing it is just weird. I don’t have time to hang with some biographer for two weeks, and I’d rather do it myself anyway. I’ve got enough money, I don’t need to play live or anything, I just need time to do it!” he explains. “I haven’t cloned myself yet and I need four more of me just to have time to tie my fucking shoes!”
It ain’t always easy being heavy metal royalty, but Fenriz makes it look like a breeze. He’s got his girlfriend, his job, his records and his work as a metal missionary to keep him more than occupied, and seems totally content in his status as whatever it is we’ve made of him. Down to earth, passionate and endlessly curious, he’s exactly how you’d hope he’d be. Case in point: after striking out with extreme metal, I finally caught his interest with the Phil Lynott-biting swagger of Dublin’s The Wizards Of Firetop Mountain, and he emailed me back later to tell me that he thought they were well promising and reminded me to check out Dead Lord. It’s that willingness to connect with his fans and peers that makes him seem more like the nice, nerdy dude next door than a metal icon, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
This feature was originally printed in Iron Fist #3 available from our store
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