[Welcome to the ninth–and final–entry in our 90s Essentials interview series. As can be likely gleaned from the logo perched above this text, Fenriz of Darkthrone is the subject of this final interrogation, and he reflects on A Blaze in the Northern Sky with customary, caps-lock’d enthusiasm.]
MetalReview: So, the MetalReview staff has spent the last half a year bickering and voting about the absolute best metal albums of the 1990s, and, quite surprisingly, we managed to reach a consensus of a list that encloses the 100 Most Essential LPs of the decade. A Darkthrone album belongs to such a list by default and we decided to go with A Blaze in the Northern Sky. What are your initial impressions of this nomination?
Fenriz: I feel frisky and fetched by it! It sounds as fresh as necro can be! BUT the reason I have to be stern about A Blaze in The Northern Sky is that it fooled people and people got fooled by it. And I’m talking about the press, fans and players in the scene. The packaging, sound and production made everyone think it was a pure black metal album, and then sort of widened the scope for what COULD be black metal. It was not intended that way. After we’d quit the old style of very technical death metal finally, we only had months before studio time, already booked for the supposed Goatlord album, and little time to make a full PRIMITIVE black metal album, so the 3 pure black metal songs on it are “Kathaarian Life Code,” “In The Shadow Of the Horns” (complete with Motörhead mid paced part and lots of Celtic Frost vibes as usual) and “Where Cold Winds Blow.” The rest was really a lot of death metal with some black metal parts – but everyone seemed to not think twice about THAT…
Having said this, it is also so that all material on the album is 120% 80s, sadly it wasn’t released then.
I can also add that it was helluvalot cooler to get the white label of A Blaze in the Northern Sky than Soulside Journey, as nothing sounded like we REALLY wanted on Soulside Journey, but everything sounded like we wanted on A Blaze in the Northern Sky. Why? Our budget for Soulside Journey was 1000£ and that meant we HAD to go to Sunlight Studios (thanks for the help, Nihilist / Entombed) but for A Blaze in the Northern Sky we got 2500£ and could finally go to CREATIVE STUDIOS, where Mayhem recorded DEATHCRUSH in 1986, and get the organic sound we craved.
MR: As a guy who has gazillion albums under his belt, how do you nowadays feel about A Blaze in the Northern Sky, one of your earliest creations, and do you think it’s worth the crazy adoration it’s been subjected to? Also, would you personally have chosen some other Darkthrone full-length from the 90s, considering the context?
Fenriz: It’s fine with me! But for maximum black metal value one should choose Under a Funeral Moon. A Blaze in the Northern Sky probably has more “substance” to it, though.
I’m used to people kissing that album’s ass, I just say FINE here and FINE there when it’s hailed (not trying to be cocky, it’s just how the days roll by here) and I wait for some passiar (discussion) with those who REALLY understand it.
MR: A Blaze in the Northern Sky is the mother of all transitional albums, because it’s an utter rejection of the foundation you laid down on Soulside Journey and, more importantly, it’s an album where you can really hear a band going through a transitional phase. You have also said that there’s still a fair bit of death metal beneath the LP’s black surface and that the album as a whole was somewhat rushed in your opinion. Anyway, what initially sparked this transition and why didn’t you spend more time erasing the traces of the death metal influence from the songs?
Fenriz: All explained in the first Q. What sparked the transition was the fact that we HAVE TO PLAY the kind of metal that interest us most at any given time – it just takes some time to move on the revolutions. Up to having made Goatlord all our changes had been PROGRESSIVE, the regress started there and then in early 1991 when we let our “jazzy” side go in favour of a brute side. I had already started tiring a bit of death metal in 1989, the underground was extremely full of it – and some bands started having too polished sound as well. I mean, I even thought the SECOND Carcass album had too commercial sound, hehe. Many examples there throughout 1989 and 1990 and onwards until the near death of DEATH metal, luckily saved by Autopsy and other organic heads, so in 1989 I started listening more to older stuff in my collection and lots of it sounded way darker. Plus we broadened our musical horizon continuously and believe it or not it felt refreshing to CONTAIN ourselves in our own project / band while we opened our heads in many ways. There was a lot of Black Sabbath and Motörhead listening as well in 1990, we even covered “Under the Sun”.
MR: You’ve stated that Peaceville was less than happy with what you guys delivered with your sophomore full-length, and apparently after the recording your bass player Dag Nilsen drew the conclusion that it was not the style of music he wanted to play. Nowadays, it’s easy to forget that A Blaze in the Northern Sky really was an extremely unusual piece of music upon its release and that many people had a hard time digesting it. How did you react to the feedback? Furthermore, I know that even back then you were a band with a strong confidence in what you were doing, but did you have any doubts about the quality of your introduction to black metal, considering that there were so many people within the metal scene that couldn’t understand it?
Fenriz: YES, good point! Good point INDEED about remembering how it was received. Cuz as I said above, now everyone kisses its ass but at the time we didn’t get much feedback at all! But in HINDSIGHT everybody hails it, and I’m talking about the major magazines too, summoning up the 90s like y’all are here. But at the time it was extremely radical to for instance have a black and white photo of ONE of the band members on the cover. It was UNHEARD of!!! Everyone had their paintings and whatnot. And later in the 90s THE HORRIBLY BAD TASTE of Photoshop covers – although THAT trend STILL reigns! Metal is a world of class but an even bigger world of NO CLASS, haha!
Everyone thinks we got a lot of feedback as it is a classic today but we got close to nothing, and in our personal lives we were more interested in worshipping music and getting fucked up and prepare for the next album, Under a Funeral Moon. Not a lot of press contact or anything back then, there was no Internet and the blackpackers (tourists that invaded Oslo and ELM STREET ROCK PUB to meet “BM LEGENDS”) didn’t really start until 1994.
Not a lot of people understand our freestyle approach since 2005 either. THE UNDERSTANDING OF PRESENT TIME DARKTHRONE ALWAYS COMES LATER!
MR: Be that as it may, now we all know that you were ahead of your time – and also looking back in time – with A Blaze in the Northern Sky, and alongside with, for example, Pure Holocaust and the self-titled debut from Burzum, it was one of the originators of black metal’s notorious second wave. Back then, would you have believed that black metal would grow to be such a monolithic entity that it would influence the burning of churches and things of that nature?
Fenriz: I wouldn’t piss on that SECOND WAVE term if it was on fire. It seems like one day in 1994 I woke up and BOOM – every journalist and punter was using that term. But when we did our 3 first black metal albums, it was simply BLACK METAL. And all our stuff was directly paying homage to the 80s so we looked upon ourselves as an 80s metal band as we do today. The burning of churches came in ’93 so it wasn’t really a lagged ripple effect… What I couldn’t see was that a lot of people from circa ’94 and onwards would misunderstand black metal and put synths (in a bad way) on top of it and use modern plastic sound on it. That was the betrayal. That was the first time BLACK METAL was no longer just BLACK METAL, as it was up to 1993 and AT LEAST 1991. And so it was a bit OVER for me, but what is stranger is that it didn’t really catch on in the USA before circaa1998 and there it seemed to be Emperor (!) that caught on the most. Uh-oh. Oh well, at least you had POSSESSED in the 80s! YEAH! And later Black Witchery and more and more organic sounding acts. I particularly enjoy Midnight. Then of course you had NECROVORE in 87, Abominations of Desolation MORBID ANGEL, first IMMOLATION demo…it doesn’t matter what style the bands called their music, if it gave off some BLACK METAL FEELING. It is better to listen to that when into a black metal mode than some plastic copy band from the 90s or whatnot. BLACK METAL wasn’t as formulaic as thrash or death metal, but it BECAME so with all the press jumping on it in ’93 and ’94 and since. Suddenly you could become “black metaller in a day” just ordering from the Nuclear Blast catalogue in 1996, hahahah! The death of a genre? Perhaps. But those who truly understand will shun all of the crap.
Also in 1991, pretty much everyone agreed what was black metal (for instance the first SODOM release) and what was not, everyone had “THE TASTE”. Then we were invaded by people with “OTHER TASTE”. The party went sour. My main possession with the black metal feel was from mid-’89 to 1993, I’d say.
MR: At that same time, black metal scenes were also developing in neighboring countries, and there was quite a bit of feud between the Norwegians and Finns with all of the death threats and other what-the-fuckery. Did you ever partake of this chaos, or did you just stay focused on the music?
Fenriz: Nope, that wasn’t on my plate. If I’d heard Beherit’s Drawing Down the Moon back then when it came out, I would have worshiped it then already. But I had some trouble with some Swedes.
MR: Considering that the two years of 1991 and 1992 are often considered as the formative years and a sort of ‘kick-off’ for black metal’s second wave, I find it kind of interesting that Varg Vikernes said in our recent interview (and has said before) that black metal died in late 1992. What do you think he means by that and, more importantly, would you agree with him?
Fenriz: Hehe, I saw this question first now, please note that I pretty much said the same thing myself during the interview! Remember AGAIN there was no term like second wave back then, we were just possessed people releasing music we simply had to.
MR: Overall, the 90s was a weird period of time, not just for the people who got robbed of their precious Cold War but also for the common metal fan. Never in its history has metal got so much flak, but at the same time this contempt was countered with some of the finest pieces of work that this genre can ever offer. As one of the figureheads of the past, present and future of metal, how do you remember the nineties and was it characterized more by the good or the bad. Moreover, what kind of offshoots did it leave for the following decades?
Fenriz: I think the black metal was better in the 80s, the thrash, the death, the power, the speed, the heavy, the NWOBHM, the doom. And all styles that came after 1994 I completely shun. But many great releases in all these genres came in 2000s again, not so many in the 90s, but many great black metal releases in the 90s. Heavy metal was pretty much dead in the 90s, but I want to start a search team for great real heavy metal with organic sound from the 90s. I can start with:
ARIA (Russia) – Double live record from 1996. It’s fantastic.
THE LORD WEIRD SLOUGH FEG‘s album from 1998.
Also the resurrection of thrash from Norwegian bands like AURA NOIR, INFERNO, NOCTURNAL BREED and ultimately AUDIOPAIN was great and I supported it from day one. The first three bands mentioned got a lot of criticism – but in 2004 everyone and their grandmother were reproducing thrash again. I will never forget the slander those brave pioneers had to face. Also Swedish GEHENNAH soldiered on with organic sound during the 90s. Applause.
I prefer to remember the worst things – like sleeve print on longsleeves (called sweaters in the 80s), it was like a 9-year-old was suddenly in charge of design – this also goes for the “creative” use of Photoshop. Incredibly, these trends didn’t just blow over as the folly and novelty they are, but has continued to this day. Also the new “glorious” production values became commonplace, replacing ACTUAL sound of instruments with plastic versions of it. Go die.