Black Metal At The Pickle Barrel: A Night With Quorthon

If you spend enough time on the Internet you begin to think that most readers visit sites just to stir the proverbial shit pot. But occasionally the Web will serve up something so delightful and unexpected that it validates the whole premise of connecting the world and equipping the population with tools to allow them to take a shot at amateur journalism (and art, fiction, poetry, politics, music…)
One of those goodies this week comes from a close connection. I’ve known Sean Palmerston for years and spent some quality time with him at Decibel’s birthday bash. The dude drove down from Canada with Decibel writer Kevin Stewart-Panko to attend the festivities. He’s been a bedrock of the Canadian metal scene for years and is a stand-up guy.

But I never knew until this week that Sean had dinner with black metal legend Quorthon and later held a massive leak while interviewing him. He’s graciously allowed dB to excerpt from his story, published on his metal site Hellbound this week. An abridged version follows but I highly recommend you check out the full story (and bookmark his site). –jmn

A Toronto metal scene guy named Dragan “Ed” Balog was running North American operations for a Swedish metal label called Black Mark Productions. Balog had been around the scene since the late 80s. He played bass in a local thrash band called Downfall and had his own company called Utopian Vision Music that had put out some compilations. He was, and still is, a great guy. Whenever he had one of his European acts come to North America for press junkets, it usually started out in Toronto before going onto NYC or LA.

Early in 1996 Dragan gave me a call and said Quorthon of Bathory was coming to Toronto. He wanted to know if I would have Quorthon on my radio show, that I could have a living legend of underground black metal in the studio. Of course, there was a new Bathory release about to come out, the excellent Blood On Ice album, and that was the whole point of the visit, but he did assure me that Quorthon would be willing to discuss the history of his band.

Really, how could I say no?

Vintage Sean Palmerston, circa mid-90s

It was arranged that I would meet up with Mr. Balog, Mr. Quorthon (who told me to call him Ace) and the owner of Black Mark, who went by the name of Boss, and that we would go out to dinner at a local restaurant, the Pickle Barrel, before doing the show. Now, we all know these days that Boss was actually Ace’s dad, and that he basically started Black Mark to put out releases by his son’s band, but at no time did Ace or Boss ever come across during the six hours we spent together as being related.

Boss looked like a fifty-something Swedish father with white hair and a beard. You knew right away that Quorthon was a rocker. He just didn’t look like what you thought the guy that penned “Equimanthorn,” “Through Blood By Thunder” and “A Fine Day To Die” would look like – unless he also had also been a member of the Cold Lake lineup of Celtic Frost. Quorthon looked a lot more like a hair metal dude than one of the forefathers of black metal – cowboy boots, ironed jeans and a black muscle shirt. I think after years of seeing him standing in a pentagram in that famous press picture I just didn’t expect him to be a sort of funny guy, who really liked to call almost everybody by the same name: Frank.

Quorthon and I ate the same thing at the Pickle Barrel: quarter chicken dinners. I was hoping he’d have a bloody rare steak, but it was BBQ chicken for the both of us. Shortly after we finished, we ran across the street to the HMV Superstore. Quorthon and Boss looked around while Dragan and I met up with some of my friends that would regularly hang out with us down in the basement studios at Ryerson University. The crew that evening included Kevin Stewart-Panko, Chris Gramlich and his then band-mate in the Toronto band Tchort, bassist Nick Sewell.

The group went over to CKLN and down into the basement dungeon, er, studio, to do the show. I cannot comment if the two-hour radio show that evening was a good one. It flew by pretty fast as I was not only interviewing but also running the mixing board. Quorthon, his dad and Mr. Balog were in the studio for the entire 120 minutes. We played a lot of the then still-unreleased Blood On Ice along with lots of other great metal (mostly from the 80s although I did play some Emperor for Quorthon, which he seemed to kinda dismiss).

Quorthon was adamant that I could not play anything on the radio off the first three Bathory albums. I had brought all of my Bathory albums, which was basically everything up until Requiem, and he didn’t let me to play anything off the first three albums. He said they made him feel uncomfortable, that the people of Canada would be much better served if a song from The Beatles or the classical composer Wagner was played instead of anything from Bathory, The Return or Under The Sign Of the Black Mark.

He would not sign any of the first four Bathory albums. He was happy to sign Hammerheart and Twilight of the Gods, on which he wrote “To Sean From Quorthon” with an ink pen (he wouldn’t use a silver sharpie), but when I asked to get the ones before those signed he had decided that was enough. and said “sorry Frank, I don’t want to sign anymore right now.”

I also came to a point in the show where I really had to go to the bathroom. I guess the beer from dinner had caught up with me, because I had to take a piss. I asked Kevin if he would take over and ask Quorthon a few questions while I ran to the bathroom, but much to my surprise Boss was having no part of it. He said to me very diplomatically that he really liked me and thought that I was doing a wonderful job interviewing Quorthon about Bathory and that to have someone else jump in would be a great injustice.

Kevin and I have talked about this over the years and we don’t know if they didn’t want Kevin to do it because he is half-black or if they just wanted me to continue doing it, but it was pretty weird for a few minutes. I ended up just playing an extra long song so I could run and wee and then continue the interview.

I heard from a few friends over the next few days that it was a pretty good interview, but to this day I have still never heard any of it. I am hoping that someone out there recorded it, but for now the interview seems lost forever and, sadly, Ace Forsberg has left this world for some other place.