Fenriz (Isengard, Darkthrone) interviewed

How does the commentary track thing work? Are you talking over the music in real-time or is the commentary track spliced in after it’s finalized? Fenriz: Lord have mercy! Just listening to Viking’s Do or Die album from ‘87 on vinyl and starting the interview. Well, it works like a commentary track on a movie—I only heard the Futurama commentary, so I figured it would have to be a bit informative and funny perhaps—I reckon. I listen to the album the week before or day before or what have you, and then I plug my mic into my mixer and record my voice on Vinyl Studio recording program while listening to the album on rather low volume in headphones via a CD player. Ain’t nothing more to it. [Laughs] Splicing? We never/I never spliced anything in my entire life, we always did everything we could in real time. I don’t know any fancy tricks and I doubt Ted knows either on the studio we had since ’05, we only use the basic functions. If Saxon or Sadus didn’t need any more, we don’t either.

Can you give us a commentary peek? Maybe something you said about the track “Vinterskugge” or “Storm of Evil”?
Fenriz: What, you want me to listen to my own commentary disc? That’s perverse! [Laughs] No, I just cross (inverted?) my fingers and hope I said something festive and infotainment-like. It could be anything as far as I remember. I did quite a lot of them already, and on top of that I went up to Trysil area where Ted now lives again (he also lived there before, he [had already] moved away from the black metal circle in Oslo in December ’91, I think) and did three more albums with him there.

Can you separate the three Isengard demos and talk about what they mean in context of Vinterskugge?
A. Spectres over Gorgoroth
Well, I never meant for Vinterskugge (Winter Shadow) to be a usual album, it was bound to be a round-up of tracks from the get go. I always thought the Spectres over Gorgoroth demo from summer of ‘89 was too good to just wither away on some tapes, gathering dust in the global underground. Great to have it out on a real CD. The demo came to be because I had decided to quit doing vocals in Darkthrone, but I always wanted to do vocals, so I continued with the Isengard project. I also had some influences that didn’t fit into the new technical death metal direction of Darkthrone at the time. Isengard was a bit more groovy and primitive. I also had the chance that summer to fool around with Valhall’s 4-track studio (later known as Necrohell for Darkthrone) and learn to record and rig and engineer everything myself. So, it was a very true [Laughs] solo project, as I did everything myself. Calling the whole album Vinterskugge was a small tribute to the excellent Treblinka (or was it Tiamat?) demo A Winter Shadow, which seemed almost forgotten at the time. And also it was a very fitting title for the front cover and for the whole “Norwegian Language into the Metal Realm” -line many of us had at the time.

** OK, now I switched to Vio-Lence’s Eternal Nightmare album from ‘88, had to remove a bug from the grooves, one can do that with ones nails. The reason a vinyl usually skips is because some little bug is stuck in the grooves, real scratches are seldom. Still many people sadly don’t know this. I had that album when it came out but didn’t dig it much, Ivar had Necrophagia’s Season of the Dead, but he didn’t dig that much, I had already gotten that via tape trading from Nicke A. from Nihilist, So I knew it was good, so we traded. Later, I gave that vinyl away to an ex-girlfriend. During the last decade I had to buy them both back. Almost never get rid of vinyl—that’s the lesson learned. Oh well. Where were we? **

Oh yeah, the demo came out in secrecy, with a secret contact address, so no one could know it was me. It was also added as extra bonus demo on Valhall’s second demo Amalgamation. But nothing really came of it. I also had to quit Valhall and put Isengard on hold late in ’89, as we were landing a record deal with Darkthrone and I had to concentrate solely on Darkthrone, something I never regretted much. [Laughs]

B. Horizons
** Shit, now I gotta get my ass out of the bed to actually get the promo CD (I lost the real CD to Vinterskugge about 15 years ago and always only had the promo). [Laughs] **

Horizons are the tracks that were very different. Maybe I was uncertain of these tracks, but three of them turned out to be some of the seminal Isengard tracks—it’s easy to say in hindsight. “The Fog” was recorded in early ’91, I think. I was having a craving for playing black metal, although the track…well, OK, it actually is black metal, perhaps the first black metal track I ever made and recorded. I can remember another one that was very noisy and chaotic inspired by first Mayhem demo. It was recorded, but I decided to scrap it, could have been in January ‘91 or something. “The Fog” was the first attempt at making black metal anyway. “Storm of Evil” is still the track that stands out and I will always look upon it as real Isengard-kind of Sisters of Mercy inspired and then the totally killer metal riffs in the middle part there. Uh! Execute! Then, the last track must have been me being never satisfied with the drum sound I could get out of one mic—all Isengard drums are recorded with one mic, also Transilvanian Hunger and Panzerfaust drums were recorded like that—so, I probably tried something else, but the drum sound is so fucked that I thought no one would like the track perhaps, and promptly put it in the very end of the album as a joker. In the ‘00s, a lot of veterans with very cool taste in metal and doom told me that this was their fave track. Oh well, I probably talk about these things a lot in the commentary tracks anyway.

C. Vandreren
Maybe I did think of doing an Isengard album anyway? ’Cuz this, the first chapter is in a way the album. Don’t know why. I thought it was all hunky dory and fresh at the time I recorded it (perhaps ‘92-‘93), but now I think it is very, very uneven. But wait! I talk about this in the commentary tracks too, of course. And I probably only really dislike that “Fanden Lokker Til Stupet” track, and not super happy with the Viking metal either. But it turns out that this was the reason Isengard sold and sold and sold constantly, and inspired many to-be folk metal acts. God, I hate folk metal. I was inspired by Bathory’s Hammerheart and Twilight of the Gods a bit, but mostly my inspirations for the Norwegian notes in Isengard was me just being Norwegian, playing and singing with a Norwegian twist. Everyone in mine and earlier generations heard traditional Norwegian music, so we can probably play something in this style if you hand us a guitar or a vocal mic. So, that was that.

4. Do you know why track sequence is in mixed chronology? You start off with the Vandreren demo and follow it with the Spectres over Gorgoroth demo.
Fenriz: Yeah, I don’t see why it should be anything within some set of rules. I am a DJ and I spread it out like I know how. And according to sales and how inspirational it became, it was probably right to start with what I thought was my freshest material at the time. As explained above, I think a lot of the other tracks were more daring and fresh now, but that’s the way it was.

A lot of people say they hear Joy Division in post-“Spectres over Gorgoroth” Isengard. Were they influences?
Fenriz: [Laughs] Great question! No, hadn’t even heard them at the time. I acknowledge them, but my fave Joy Division track is a cover song of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Squarepusher. It’s sacrilege to say that, I know, but it’s the truth and I can’t lie, so. Not my fave band, nor is Throbbing Gristle or that band who had that “The Wait” song…Killing Joke? I first heard that song covered by Metallica. Metallica did a lot to try to make people understand where their ‘extreme metal’ came from, but no one took heed. Same with Slayer. They did an entire punk album to get the point across, but to this day there are millions of metal people denying that ‘80s metal came from punk and prog rock; and heavy rock dating back to the ‘60s even. I’m talking about grown men here. For shame.

Why did you decide to perform Isengard by yourself? Was it more who was available or unavailable at the time?
Fenriz: No, I had solo projects since I could. Summer of ‘87 I started that shit. Making a song on guitar. Then having that song in my head while playing and recording drums onto a tape deck. Then playing that tape with the drums on stereo in the reh[earsal] place while playing the guitar stuff to it and growling while it was recorded on the cassette deck again. Sounded horrible. And got caught up in Darkthrone after that. But I did two demos (luckily lost) that way before starting Darkthrone in late ‘87. So, then I took it easy with the solo shit until I could learn the Valhall studio in ‘89 and so do the Isengard demo. I remember I had around nine inspirational sources written down for Isengard at the time. Nihilist, Morbid Angel, Autopsy, Necrophagia, first Immolation demo (those two tracks still rule in hell!), Candlemass (last riff on the demo), and then I don’t remember any more now.

** Gotta go turn the Vio-Lence album over…Intense stuff, like Viking too, but the new Nekromantheon [click HERE to stream a cut] album is the best all-intense thrash album ever recorded. Nothing slow on it. Even Darkness Descends has a slow song… **

I think the Vandreren demo became kind of a blueprint for folk metal. Not just the stuff that’s currently making the rounds, but at the time nationalism (whether extreme or not) was sweeping underground music. Do think Isengard (and then perhaps more concretely Storm) was one of many catalysts for folk metal as it exists today? Of course, Bathory predated Isengard a bit and had more of a profile.
Fenriz: Wasn’t a demo, that was recorded for the Peaceville underlabel Dreamtime. I think maybe, or was it called Deaf? Yeah, Quorthon went totally against the grain and did two slow Viking metal albums when no one else even thought along those lines. That’s why he is one of the few in the scene I always respected. So, he deserves a lot of credit. Then there was Skyclad, but I wasn’t inspired by them, you see. They were so pro anyway, but it was a bit too jolly or merry if you like, and that’s where most of those making folk metal fucked up. Soon, it sounded like some up-metalled Irish folk music, very bad taste. So, I always just stuck to ‘70s folk rock and those two Bathory albums, because that was all that was out there. Except Skyclad. Which was OK. But after Storm, I didn’t listen to any other upcoming bands of the style, except to the extent that I had to take it off my player in dismay. Later, I came to like a project by that guy also playing in Zemial. That was decent Viking/folk. I’m sure there are many out there that doesn’t suck, but triggered bass drums fucked up most of that genre as well, I’m afraid. Gonna shut up about it now.

Do you remember why you (and other members of the Norwegian black metal scene) were so elusive to the press? Did it have to do with the way the media treated the murder of Øystein Aarseth and the church burnings? In his METALION: The Slayer Mag Diaries book Jon Kristiansen hints that the media and the police brutalized the naiveté of then-young black metallers to get what they wanted.
Fenriz: Metalion was the press, but remember I’d been doing the UG [underground] thing since all ’87, ‘88 and ‘89 and ‘90, and I was fucking tired of it in ’91, so I needed a break. Also no journos understood black metal in ‘91 or ‘92, but when shit hit the fan in ‘93—oh, suddenly, everyone was covering it. The style they didn’t understand. They would have needed to listen to first Sodom and early Bathory a lot before writing. But most did not. So, I took a long break. Which led to a lot of rumors and misunderstandings that I started sorting out through interviews starting ‘98 and I never stopped since then. I did some interviews ‘91-’97, but not many. Having a regular job (which I still have since ‘88) in that media circus wasn’t exactly a field day. It was a pretty dire situation over here, I can tell you. But I held court in public at the Elm Street Rock Café [in] downtown Oslo all those years (‘91-‘97) when I didn’t do many interviews, so people could meet me face to face and also people started visiting there from literally all around the world from ‘94 and forward until I pulled away year by year ‘01-’05. I had enough of that circus as well. In ‘05, as you know, I started doing a lot of work for real metal in the global underground again, like I did in ‘87-’91, but now I could promote other bands even more, which now has culminated in the three years and running Band of the Week bonanza and Live Evil festival in England; and now my own vinyl series BotW Fenriz Presents by Cargo Records Germany. The most important thing about interviews is always were people talk about other bands. That’s how I often felt.

** Gotta go change record again. Hmm…be right back…Ah, Endless Pain by Kreator, that’s never wrong. Got it as back patch on one of my three metal vests, woohoo!! **

When Vinterskugge (and let’s not forget the Neptune Towers debut) came out in ’94, it kind of shocked many Darkthrone fans to the core. I remember reading ‘zines and many editors couldn’t get past the fact you were doing music different from Darkthrone. What do you recall as far as feedback was concerned?
Fenriz: I can recall nothing, doing interviews since ‘88 I didn’t often ask for a copy myself as many were in languages I didn’t understand and also I was too busy recording albums and working shifts full-time and spending a lot of time at Elm Street. I probably also thought it was wimpy to always wanting to read about oneself. I got royalties and spent it on beer and taxis and my girls over those years. ’95, I also got interested in DJ-ing, not only thrash metal (one of the styles I know best), but buying turntables and learning how to beat mix, making DJ mix tapes from ‘95 and onwards… Still DJ-ing all kinds of stuff, one night isn’t like the next one, to say it carefully. [Laughs] Anyway up here, it was always encouraged to be open-minded. Liking only one style was a rare exception from the rule. In horror, I would slowly learn that metallers from many other countries were only into metal and felt it was a war against other music. I was always open-minded as hell. Evil has no boundaries and if they wanted to chain me I would break those chains. People should break their musical head-chains. Wow, that came out clumsily. [Laughs] So, I don’t remember feedback from Isengard, just got plenty of royalties. Satanic royalties. [Laughs] Midnight reference, his new album, good song.

In a ’94 issue of Terrorizer you were interviewed by Rob Clymo and said, “As I said, we [Darkthrone] don’t give any interviews and we don’t want to talk about anything, especially the Isengard album which is not an especially interesting piece of music.” Still true?
Fenriz: Well, I had other things on my mind. Recording other albums, for instance. I always forged ahead, and what is most interesting is that when I started doing interviews in ‘88 and I sometimes got the magazines like let’s say three months after, I was like, “Did I say that?!” Oh boy. I always change so fast, and this still happens a lot. Like it will with this intie, too. If I read it again in half a year I would go, “Who’s that rookie talking?” [Laughs] Anyway, I figure I was right in just not commenting on the album. It went fine on its own. Still does, I reckon. But thank you for caring and interviewing me! Don’t forget to listen to Manilla Road.

** Peaceville has re-issued both Isengard albums as 2-CD sets, with a bonus commentary disc. You can order them HERE. Trust us, if this little ditty above, where Fenriz stars as himself, is entertaining to you, the commentary discs for Isengard are damn near comedy gold. Fenriz stand-up world tour, opening for a reunited Dark Angel? That would be sweet!