Interview by Chris Chantler
This year, we celebrate the 25th anniversary of what’s universally considered the greatest black metal compilation ever released, Nordic Metal: A Tribute To Euronymous. Initially conceived between Mayhem founder/guitarist Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth and Necropolis Records founder Typhon in 1993, it was posthumously released over a year after former’s murder in 1994. Featuring then-previously unreleased material from Mayhem, Emperor, Mortiis, Abruptum and Mysticum, the record enraptured genre newbies and underground scene stalwarts alike at a time when black metal reached its unlikely commercial zenith. On the eve of the Mayhem-headlined Decibel Magazine Tour, Decibel speaks with Typhon to discuss the creation of the legendary release and its lasting impact on extreme metal.
In the booklet former Emperor Faust says Nordic Metal was being prepared by yourself and Euronymous in 1993. What can you recall about early plans for the record?
TYPHON: One has to remember that back in the early ’90s, there wasn’t any widespread use of email, so we were all communicating via regular post (snail mail). Calling foreign countries remained really expensive, so we sent letters more than we talked on the phone. It took seven to 10 days for a letter to reach Norway and Sweden, and then we would have to wait seven to 10 days to get a reply back. If you asked a 19-year-old today to wait more than two minutes for downloading a song, you’d probably lose their attention. That said, I had some conversations about the compilation over the phone with quite a few of the bands involved (Dissection, Marduk, Euronymous and then later Hellhammer of Mayhem, It of Abruptum, etc.).
The early conversations started culminating into an “Inner Circle” type of concept for a compilation. Other names such as “the Black Circle” or “Black Metal Mafia” were thrown around in letters, and Euronymous liked the idea to start. However, during late ’92/early ’93 they were all getting too much “heat” from their activities in Norway, so I think he wanted to stay away from those kind of titles. A lot of the reasons were that some of the bands involved were easily identifiable, so there may have been a bit of apprehension. He had asked me to burn or bury his letters also around this time, after I read them, since he didn’t want anything traced.
In retrospect, “the Black Circle” or a compilation around that theme, would’ve probably limited the amount of bands. There was also a Swedish Horde, and other extensions globally. We were all young so there were a lot of egos and opinions, obviously. One also must remember the differing philosophies on the types of Satanism or other philosophies per band, so there was a lot to consider.
After thinking about it, I put forth the possibility of doing a Deathlike Silence Productions compilation with Euronymous’ bands, as well as others, on it (Mayhem, Burzum, Enslaved, Emperor, Mysticum, Sigh, Monumentum, etc.). Obviously Euronymous liked the idea of spreading the music and message overseas, particularly with an American label. I believe the “Nordic Metal” title was discussed, but then all the bands weren’t exactly from the region. He was big on promotion of his bands and his movement, and of course what he was creating. Emperor and Enslaved were at some point going to sign to DSP also, but then got the Candlelight deal on his recommendation.
I further presented the idea to start licensing his music in the U.S. under a DSP U.S. type banner—with the compilation kicking it off. He was about to send me all the masters and layouts so we could start work together. His last letter in July or beginning of August 1993 only contained some pictures, and a promise that he was sending everything over after certain things were “dealt with.” Unfortunately, he was killed before we got a chance to do anything on that front. It’s possible I have his last letter ever written, but he wrote a lot of people, so you never know.
After his passing I realized I had some tracks already figured out and he had spoken about the compilation to some of the bands. Since I was in touch with Marduk, Abruptum, Hellhammer of Mayhem, Dissection, Enslaved, Emperor and many others, the plan became to go ahead and make it a tribute compilation. I was speaking a lot to Morgan [Håkansson of] Marduk, Samoth and Faust of Emperor, Hellhammer of Mayhem, Jon Nödtveidt of Dissection (R.I.P.) and It [Tony Sarkka] of Abruptum (R.I.P.) at this time so they really helped a lot in wanting to see this released. Metalion of Slayer Mag was supportive as well, and so were quite a lot of others, so I felt like I had the approval of the people I respected who not only wanted to help, but were glad to participate.
Faust by this time was already in prison, and we continued to write a lot about this as I asked him to fulfill the wishes and get a Thorns track on there. The irony now of course is that Snorre [Ruch] is in the band, but I was given everything to include by Faust. Morgan of Marduk sent me a lot of pictures from the old days. It was very instrumental, and Jon of Dissection also was a big supporter. Morgan was probably the most important person in getting this done since he was able to send me a lot of the rare pictures that you see in the layouts, as well the cover shot, and the CBR [Chicken Brain Records] compilation which had good versions of the Mayhem tracks, which Hellhammer had given his blessing on.
If you take a snapshot in time, say 10 to 11 months before, you could see how Burzum or Darkthrone could be included, or you could also see how maybe even Sigh or Monumentum could be on there. It’s just strange how these things play out. I can tell you that none of this was easy. There was a lot going on, a lot of letters back and forth exchanged, and a lot of high emotions and tensions at play—particularly after the death of Euronymous.
For the final track list, was there a shortlist of bands that you invited to contribute, based on Euronymous’ patronage, or did any get in touch asking if they could join in? How much did the track list fluctuate from first concept to final product?
TYPHON: I invited bands from the DSP label side (Enslaved, Thorns, Mysticum, Abruptum), as well of course Emperor, Arcturus and others like Dissection and Marduk who had other things cooking label wise. It was as close as possible to the bands that Euronymous wanted on the original compilation. Hellhammer was also in Arcturus and Samoth had released their [Self-Titled] EP on his label in a very limited pressing, and both gave the blessing to go ahead there.
As far as bands asking to join in, I got some of what you may consider another important group of bands that began to make an impact after the earlier period. I don’t think people knew that a compilation like this would make such an impact, so it was only until after it was released that I started talking to other bands about potentially making a follow up.
I thought about doing a Nordic Metal II compilation which would include bands like Satyricon, Gorgoroth, Nifelheim, Carpathian Forest, Manes, In the Woods…, Dark Funeral (with Blackmoon), Ulver, Gehenna, Ildjarn, Dimmu Borgir, Sigh and others. I even received quite a few tracks, but as you know the Black Metal scene became a bit too ‘high profile/trendy’ in 1995/1996 and beyond, and the idea was put on ice. Besides, it was hard enough to put the first one together with all the personalities and opinions, so I’m surprised I was able to pull that off anyway.
Other ideas later on were about a three-part thing, where I would take older recordings of Old Funeral, Amputation (Nor), Thou Shalt Suffer, Darkthrone, Grotseque, Treblinka (and early Tiamat, Mortem, Morbid, Obscurity (Swe) and even others like Sameal, Mortuary Drape, Master’s Hammer, Root, Tormentor, Rotting Christ, Sarcófago… and then re-release Nordic Metal alongside, and then do a Nordic Metal II, but I was just too busy with building the label. That would’ve been a super cool idea, to just kind of show the early progression, but in a different way.
On track list of the final comp, I thought about how the music was flowing in mastering and wanted to mix the order in a way that the listening could be fluid. Starting off with the insane Abruptum track, it set the mood. After this, you can’t really get anything better than “Freezing Moon,” and from there it just flowed. I had a great mastering guy who took into account the different kinds of recordings and sound levels, so that helped.
The inclusion of Mortiis was fought by a couple of the other bands, but that’s because everyone was obsessed with how “True” everyone else was. In retrospect, the album needed an outro, and Mortiis was important in that whole scene during those times. I guess he and others in the scene had some fallout since he had left for Sweden to get away from Norway, but he had a girlfriend in Sweden, and obviously had his own things going on. Can’t fault the guy for that.
Was there anyone you wanted to include but couldn’t?
TYPHON: I don’t think I should have released the compilation without Darkthrone. I did labor a lot on asking [Peaceville founder] Hammy and Fenriz for the inclusion, but around that time, their albums were so well distributed. I don’t think they could’ve given me an unreleased song. If I was to do it again, I’d definitely include them. I was writing Fenriz when they had just made the change in style from Soulside Journey to A Blaze in the Northern Sky, and I think at the time they had the right attitude of not wanting to be too “commercial” or “trendy.” Hammy was cool and supportive so I’m sure if I had held on and kept pushing both parties, something would’ve happened, but their band/label relationship was a little strained also due to the bands’ change in style, so I didn’t go there.
As far as Darkthrone and my thoughts in retrospect: Maybe they thought a compilation with all the other bands was too much exposure. Either way, you can’t really do a compilation on the genre without them. They were also much closer to [Burzum founder] Varg [Vikernes] and some of his ideas around that time, so maybe that played a part in me not pushing to include them as much. On the other hand, they already dedicated A Blaze in the Northern to Euronymous as an entire album, which is a masterpiece, so maybe they didn’t need to be included on the compilation after all. It kind of goes without saying that Darkthrone is the most important band alongside the original ones for the scene there.
I thought about Immortal a lot too, maybe Gorgoroth and later Satyricon—or to include those on a second disc. This idea was kind of shot down from the Swedish Horde since they felt including so many bands wouldn’t do it justice. Ultimately the collection of bands says a lot about their personal relationship with Euronymous and the inspiration he was to the thinking, so the spirit is kind of there the way it is. Having Thorns on there is ironic, but since Snorre and Euronymous are credited with the riffing style, seems fitting. Besides, Euronymous wanted Thorns on the album from the beginning.
As far as the title, Nordic Metal, I’m not sure I would name it that today. In retrospect it probably doesn’t necessarily capture the essence of what it could’ve been and excludes bands that Euronymous liked and was close to. So if the concept was a tribute from the start, I would probably ask Sigh, Tormentor, Rotting Christ, Necromantia, Monumentum, Samael, Master’s Hammer Root, Mortuary Drape, and maybe even Masacre or Typhon (Columbia)—because of Bull Metal [Mauricio Montoya of Masacre], but then you can see it would’ve been a different kind of compilation. I’m glad Hervé [Herbaut] of Osmose Productions was around to release some of that music early on, as well Samoth later released the Anno Domini demo by Tormentor, as an album. The Dissection cover of “Elizabeth Bathory” is kind of a tip of the hat to Tormentor anyhow, and I’m glad Fenriz released his old-school black metal compilation much later where he put on some bands there that capture the early essence of their inspiration.
Whose idea was the “Anti Cunt” Varg Vikernes disc image?
TYPHON: I labored on this quite a bit. The anti-cunt thing was starting to show up on flyers—from Bull Metal, I believe, and it was pretty synonymous with Euronymous’ Deathlike Silence label. Tony Sarkka was probably the most vocal about us putting that on there, and I was pretty close with him at the time. I think we were all upset at the time and just had to give a big FUCK OFF to the guy who took away someone who was so important to the scene. Strange that murderer and victim are staring at each other when you close the disc.
Again, you have to remember I was 19 or 20 years old at the time. I guess I can look at all of this differently. All I know is that I have a lot of letters in a storage unit that would definitely shed light on what certain people were thinking back then, despite what they’ve said in interviews later on.
The compilation is a snapshot in time, so it really should be viewed from that lens. Later on, Varg and I exchanged letters about it, and discussed in detail, but these things are better left back then. It was a personal matter/war between the two of them, but we (the scene) were all pissed off by it.
How well did it do for the label?
TYPHON: It did pretty well, although we were a tiny label with very small distribution. I didn’t have a proper distributor in the U.S. or even Europe at the time. It was thanks to people at other labels like Herve/Osmose, Pat/Red Stream, Odin/Moribund, Lee/Candlelight, Jon/Fullmoon, Dave/Drowned, Roberto/Obscure Plasma, and others who spread it around through their distribution.
As far as “sales,” I’m sure the bootlegs have done better, but we always kept it in print when I was running the label, so obviously it kept going. It wasn’t cheap to produce. The booklet was really long, and it had four colors plus the gold, which was ridiculously expensive, but I figured it was a fitting epitaph for the guy that so inspired the scene.
Does any one song stand out as a favorite?
TYPHON: If you were to pin me, I have to say Abruptum track. It is so dark and sets the stage for the rest of the album. The stories back then were the guys would cut themselves in the studio and practice self-mutilation. They even told me that on the phone and in letters. It’s definitely one of Abruptum’s most twisted and amazing songs and if you are hearing black metal for the first time, you should be scared. You should be terrified. That’s the whole point.
Obviously, I was thrilled to have a great version of “Freezing Moon” with Dead on vocals from the CBR compilation, and a good hat tip to Mayhem from Ophthalamia with their “Deathcrush” cocver. The Thorns track was also great—although very heavily tape-traded before that in the underground scene.
One of my other favorites may be the Dissection track “Where Dead Angels Lie’”with the lyric in the last few sentences of: “To Welcome the Eternal Night…”. The fact that Euronymous, Dead, Jon Nodtveidt, and Tony Sarkka are no longer on the planet makes it all that much eerier. The whole thing is pretty morbid to be honest. I guess that’s the way black metal should be and stands to the original vision of the man the tribute is made for. The Dissection tracks were actually taken from a Wrong Again Records compilation, and Jon was able to convince them to let me use them, which was really cool. It was good that other labels were also very supportive of this.
Reading the liner notes—and that 1991 Mayhem interview in Slayer Mag—it really seems like ’90s Norwegian black metal was effectively the result of one man’s vision. Is that your recollection?
TYPHON: I would say so. I didn’t see anyone else flying the flag like that early on. However, it really depends on the context of your question. Inspiring some of the other bands to change course was definitely a strong influence—even the early letters that my former collaborator at the label, Shiva, got from him would attest to that. Obviously, can’t deny the levels that Darkthrone and Burzum took things to either.
I would say more accurately that it was the result of one man’s “influence” and that’s definitely Euronymous himself. Said man was also inspired by Venom, Tormentor, Sarcófago, Bathory, Hellhammer and then musically working with Snorre of Thorns. It’s interesting to think how the movement kind of took a life of its own also with Varg, and then the Swedish Horde doing their thing, too. Perhaps this is a better question for those bands so inspired, but yes, the quotes in the compilation credited to Euronymous do say a lot. He certainly inspired me to continue the work and release a tribute to him along with the bands, so that says a lot, too.
How do you remember Øystein some 25 years on?
TYPHON: Brand Builder. RiffMaster. Tape Trader/Label Owner. Misanthrope. Megalomaniac. Totalitarian Communist. Evil Genius. Perhaps a bit of a “wanna-be” Chemist/Scientist/Showman with some P.T. Barnum mixed in!?! He may have been strangely flattered by my descriptions here. He did have a wicked sense of humor too, after all.
To clarify, these shouldn’t be read as insults to the dead.
I like to remember him as a friend and someone who was excited about the movement behind black metal. I knew him from the calls we did and the letters we shared. That’s one way of knowing someone, I suppose. Others have their own memories, I’m sure. In other ways, I agree with what [Mayhem bassist] Necrobutcher has said lately in the way he treated Dead’s death. I have a conflicts about that for sure.
As I said before, I have a lot of letters from the people involved, and what the sentiments were at the time. It’s interesting to read other interpretations or even people changing history, but that’s what happens when there’s a lot of obscure lore and legend to sift through.
How I like to think about Oystein is as the leader of the black metal movement in Norway. A man with big ideas who made a lot of them come true. He changed what people thought of black metal at the time and how dangerous it could be when done properly and at its most extreme. Most importantly for me, I liked the fact that he supported other scenes—and was in touch with so many different people across the world—as long as the vision was shared. He supported the scene by tape trading, selling music and generally creating interest and didn’t seem to care where the bands came from.
He left behind some pretty amazing music. De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas remains one of my favorite black metal albums of all time.
As far as the way I think about all the guys who are no longer here, they lived and died by the sword, and their own philosophy. I’m not one to judge, but it was good to know them, share thoughts during a youthful time of my life (and theirs), and do what we were all able to do to contribute to the black metal scene together.