Q&A with ex-Emperor/The Wretched End main man Samoth

** Four years separate The Wretched End’s last album, Inroads, from new album, In These Woods, From These Mountains. The group’s dynamic duo, Samoth and Cosmo, would like to think they’ve spent the last half decade writing and refining The Wretched End’s third full-length, but that isn’t the case. Life, as it were, and sophisticated black metal, as fated, got in the way. However, that didn’t stop The Wretched End from writing what might be the group’s most atmospheric record yet. In These Woods, From These Mountains sounds like it was crafted by persons informed, inspired, and in-the-know about Norway’s coveted forests, which are increasing in coverage year-over-year according to World Bank land use indicators. Surely, this in food for musical fodder for The Wretched End. But don’t think In These Woods, From These Mountains is arboreal puffery. This is truly brutal death metal with an air for the supernatural. Norwegian style. We sit down with Samoth to discuss In These Woods, From These Mountains and why it’s different from its applauded predecessors.

What took so long between Inroads and In These Woods?
Samoth: During this period, there were certain things in both of our lives that kind of prolonged the working situation a bit. For one, Cosmo sold his house, relocated, got married and had his first child, so goes it without saying that sometimes everyday life, or life itself, demands time and priority. I personally had the Emperor reunion shows, which obviously was a big priority for me. All this led to things taking a little longer than originally intended, as the workflow wasn’t as constant as before. Also, the fact that we also recorded this album ourselves in a more DIY setup prolonged the actual recording session itself a little bit. Nevertheless it wasn’t really a big deal. We didn’t really put any major pressure on ourselves and allowed ourselves to take the time it took to get it done properly. I feel the album turned out really well, and the response has been great.

Since there’s a Slayer-like gap, do you feel the albums occupy a different headspace or mood?
Samoth: Yes, but I think a lot of it lays in the production, where the first two albums are a lot more modern sounding in the way they are produced, whereas the new album has a much more spontaneous and free-flowing attitude. This is something that we were striving for going into the process of the new album.

I hear more black metal in In These Woods? Full circle, to some degree, or coincidence?
Samoth: Again, I think it has a lot to do with the production element of this album, because there are definitely blackened elements throughout our previous albums as well. Also in Zyklon you find the same thing, but I guess the overall vibe was more in a death metal direction. Myself, as a songwriter, the black metal influence has always been there, but yes even more so on this new one, as well as the changes we have made with the guitar sound, and overall production, as well as leaving things a little more raw.  I think, with this new album, we have captured our extreme metal essence to a point. It’s also probably our most varied album so far, bringing in more atmospheric elements.

A little bird tells me you were offered the Mayhem gig, but had to turn it down due to Emperor commitments. Did getting that offer change your mindset, insofar as how you were approaching music for The Wretched End? Or did re-playing Emperor songs do that?
Samoth: Well, I have been offered to join several bands over the years. I’ve had talks with Necrobutcher and Satyr about Mayhem and Satyricon. Satyricon was basically only live stuff, Mayhem was looking for both live as well as possibly something more on the creative side. I was asked to audition for The Haunted years ago as well actually, when one of the twins had left the band or something. Anyway, talking to Necrobutcher happened already before we recorded Inroads, so it wasn’t really something that impacted the new album in any major way. I did, however, write a few ideas with such a possible cooperation in mind, and a few of those ideas did end up on the new album. Having said that, and also taking the Emperor Nightside… reunion into context, I think I already had a vision and feeling for what become the new The Wretched End album. As for joining any other bands, I really had enough to do with my own bands. It’s always nice to be considered for a band, but having my own projects has always driven me, even if, at times, it might be hard or perhaps doesn’t have the same success. However, it is my own creativity that allows me to be free and more in control. I also have to say that the whole live aspect is not something I’m so committed to anymore.

Conceptually, where is In These Woods rooted?
Samoth: Basically, pretty much from living almost like a hermit up in the Norwegian mountains. When I initially started to look for ideas for the new album design and concept, my idea was to build the whole cover based on old traditional Norwegian wood buildings, which have a very unique look and rich history. The album title came much later in the process. I had a whole bunch of titles on paper during this time. Our prior albums both had a one-word titles, so for a while I was heading down that direction as well, but ended up going the total opposite route, choosing a much more poetic title. I guess you could say it’s a reflection of where this creative output took form as well as my everyday life surroundings. And of course there is also a darker aspect to the whole imagery of the woods, like something more unknown and eerie. If you look at the art direction of our debut album Ominous and the second album Inroads, you will also find industrial elements. I’m fascinated by the contrasts between nature and decrepit industrial urban landscapes. In general, I would say that the visual aspect and also the emotional aspect of nature are quite appealing to me, both on an artistic level and also on a personal level. However, conceptually, there is more than just nature, there’s a much darker dystopian side to things with topics related to society, religion, and also more personal thoughts and reflections.

What do you think is different about Norwegian forests?
Samoth: Well, I’m not sure there is necessarily anything different about the Norwegian forests, depends what you compare it too I guess. But the traditional mysticism around nature in Norway is for sure rich and alive. Norway, in general, is very known for its majestic mountains and nature worldwide, both from a commercial tourist aspect on the one side, to the obscurity of unholy black metal on the other end, and of course all the myths and folklore going back ages. It is also no doubt very epic.

The production to In These Woods is a bit different. Almost raw, barren. Did you go in thinking, “I want us to sound fresh?” It’s kind of black metal-ish in approach, actually.
Samoth: Fresh wasn’t really what we were going for, but we definitely went in with a clear attitude of wanting to make some changes production wise. We wanted to keep things more stripped down and allow for much more of the recording to stay untouched, basically not relying triggering or tweaking everything to so-called perfection.  This time we recorded everything ourselves, which was a little bit trial and error process, but it turned out well and I think we managed to make the changes we were looking for. I think our sound is now much closer to the way I wanted it. Also looking back at the previous album, even if it’s a good sounding album, I always felt some of the riffs and atmosphere of some of the songs were kind of lost in a modern sounding production with fat, chuggy guitars.

The reaction to “Death by Nature” was certainly positive. Have people given you the same applause for “Primordial Freedom”? Not that they’re the same song, but there’s a similar launch angle, with the videos and the band presenting themselves to the world.
Samoth: Yeah, the launching of the new video went well. “Death by Nature” was however probably a more catchy, video-friendly song, which was why we chose that song in the first place. With “Primordial Freedom” we did, in a way, the exact opposite. We chose a very dark and sort of non-traditional and not particularly video-friendly song, but definitely a very dark and atmospheric one, which worked very well with the video that was made by Canadian contemporary artist Vexedart.com.  With this new video launch, I was not at all concerned with it being a catchy tune to reach the most people or whatever, but it was more about the atmosphere and the artistic aspect.

What’s next? Touring, festivals, The Wretched End fireworks?
Samoth: The next step is really to start exploring new ideas for a new album. We have no live schedule for this album. Basically, The Wretched End was formed as a studio alliance and has remained. With our schedules and other priorities such as families, etc., The Wretched End has been an outlet for us as a creative unit, rather than a touring unit. Personally, I also have some health issues that at times are an obstacle. For years, I’ve have had migraines, which has affected my life quite negatively in periods. I guess I’ve almost been in a bit of denial about this, also I don’t like to talk about health issues really, but the reality is that it’s only gotten worse and I am now diagnosed with chronic migraines. This puts me sometime in a rather dark place, both physically and mentally. Which on a side note, I also have managed to take it into some of my creative work. Anyway, this is also a part of the situation where I’ve never been so driven to make The Wretched End a full-on live band, and all what that requires. Basically, touring unfortunately no longer has the same appeal to me as it used to.

If you had one piece of advice for bands just starting out, what would it be?
Samoth: Wear earplugs from day one! It’s hard to say, as I don’t really know how it is to start up as a young band today, but I image it must be very hard to stand out. I think in general it’s about staying true to what you are doing.  With Emperor it was always about staying focused on the musical and artistic expression, and not about striving for commercial success as the motivation, but I guess people go into these things with different intentions. Either way, there is no easy way, so one’s gotta be prepared to work hard.

** The Wretched End’s new album, In These Woods, From These Mountains, is out now on Indie Recordings. The album is available HERE on vinyl and CD. In These Woods, From These Mountains will be out in North America shortly on Abstract Distribution.