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Drummer for Darkthrone, Norwegian, and overall metal ambassador Fenriz hardly needs an introduction. Todd Nief cornered the metal legend for a few quick questions regarding riffs, his tastes and "Band of the Week", as well as the writing process. The results of said conversation is below.
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You've become something of a taste curator over the last several years with your Band of the Week posts and your eagerness to mention your influences. Have you had this role before? Did you ever run a fanzine?
No, I always wanted to but I was IN fanzines since 1988 so I figured I’d just take it from there, talking about other people’s music a lot in interviews and such. And when I finally caved in and bought a computer in 2005 (to avoid phone interviews) I quickly found MySpace and I started promoting other bands there and ended up doing the Band of the Week blog after. I have been dj’ing for nearly 20 years and making compilations for friends, until that escalated to podcasts too. Being a music freak since 1973 I have now got a pretty cool network of music experts around the globe.
Do your friends all share your fascination with digging into music? What got you started obsessively listening to music? I believe you've mentioned John Peel in other interviews...
Yeah, but I only read about Peel and understood his position with the BBC and the vinyl series. MUSIC got me into music, and that’s the only way it must be. Not creating a fanzine (I did, though, try to write newsletters) was because I realized I needed to interview bands and I am really not comfortable doing that (I once interviewed BASEMENT JAXX face to face!), I’m used to being on the other end of an interview AND ALSO I just want to LISTEN. Always just LISTEN. ONLY HEADPHONES IS REAL, to paraphrase Hellhammer. It started with my uncle playing me Pink Floyd in 1973 and when he saw my reaction…well, he soon gave me The Doors’ Morrison Hotel later that year, and a whole bunch of stuff in ’74 including the life changing heavy record for me, Uriah Heap’s Sweet Freedom. Since then I was mostly into just listening to music alone, and on headphones is best, that’s when you REALLY can rate what you are going through.
There is a very typical downstroked sliding black metal riff style that has been present on all of your records starting with "A Blaze in the Northern Sky." (reference: 10:50 in "Leave No Cross Unturned") This style of riff seems to be tied very closely with the Norwegian black metal scene. Who invented this riff style?
That’s pure ’84 Celtic Frost! And also stuff like MESSIAH by HELLHAMMER. It’s the kind of riff I’m best at making, and I’ve always done it. Others started doing it too, but it was Tom G. Warrior that is the initial master of this kind of black ’n’ roll vibe. I used to say it’s slow doomy and dark but at the same time it’s like sitting in a truck drinking cans of beer. That’s the vibe you gotta have to make those kind of riffs.
Similarly, the melodic riffing on "Transilvanian Hunger," along with some of Varg's riffs on "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss" have pretty much defined the "Norwegian black metal" aesthetic. Where did this sense of melody come from?
It came from Bathory’s 1987 Under the Sign of the Black Mark (only a couple of riffs) and especially BLOOD FIRE DEATH in 1988 where there were more riffs with that finger moving technique. Now, later on, it would be disputed who brought it to Norway, but it’s safe to say that Euronymous, Snorre Ruch from Thorns, and Varg did try to evolve that riffing over the next few years. I think Darkthrone kept the progress to a minimum, using a rather Bathory-ish style. I’m not a good enough guitarist to elaborate on any style, so I rather make it work instead.
Over your last several albums, you've transitioned into more of a conglomeration of styles (some NWOBHM, some speed metal, some Scandinavian hardcore) in a way that actually reminds me of your "A Blaze in the Northern Sky" album (some death metal riffs, some black metal riffs, a lot of Celtic Frost, etc.) Is it fair to say that both your current output and your earliest output are more a reflection of your influences, whereas your more black metal albums were a reflection of your own mind?
I think we are a bit more back to our first three demos, where we were very varied and just mirrored our influences. I did a lot of the material then, but I didn’t have the know how to make it efficient. I had to let that go and let the others IN to Darkthrone to make Darkthrone work. So I quit singing in Darkthrone then and made Ted take over, and then it was just one demo that was a soundboard recording of a live gig at the bootleg stage in Oslo that got us our record deal. So it was a right decision. I think we always made very varied albums, but there were exceptions to that rule too. Then I think we started to freestyle again on the Hate Them album we did in 2002, and then more and more of that. Back in 1988 we would have also needed our own studio to make our direction at the time work, but I think I had too many ideas then and not enough playing and arranging skill to make it work. With the NECROHELL II studio that we bought in 2005, we had the arranging knowledge, we just needed to work that portable studio. Then we’ve worked on baby steps with that studio, and we got Jack Control to master our new album, and so we are close to, IN A WAY, how we needed to be in early ’89 to make Darkthrone work. Instead we went on a long journey of death metal, black metal, black ’n roll…and so we return, it’s kind of like the circle game now. But the only things that were constant were bass in the bass drums, always vinyl, and always ’80s metal as the main influence. It’s also reason to point out the difference in the writing style and vocal style between Ted and me. And, last but not least, we make the songs on our own and don’t discuss styles or direction. Darkthrone is a natural project left to regress/progress like all humans do. ‘Whatever happens happen’ (to quote GRIFFIN from 1972, great album). However I think your closing argument is excellent. I amazingly never reflected on that influences/own mind angle, but I think it is valid. Congratulations. But we are more fleeting than that.
When writing songs do you start with an idea in your own head or do you start with an influence? How does the creative process start for you? Do you make time for it, or is it spur of the moment?
It can often be a rhythm of a riff. The last riff I made in my mind was like that, and those riffs often works best than pure melody stuff that pops up in my head, which was the way I always wrote in the beginning – and that I never really succeeded to get off the ground. Now I can arrange better. But I mean, having made so much music, I am certain that I have used most angles in making music. But usually I just wait, or I don’t even wait, but when the good shit hits my brain it’s time to hum it into an mp3 player or grab a guitar. And often when I have one riff and I gotta play it, another comes along in that process. But it’s not like the best songs are made in a jiffy and the ones I gotta work with a long time never works. There are no absolutes, it’s just journos and tired musicians that tell it like that. Both cases can work and both ways can fail. You never know.
All of your songs have a very clear sense of melodic resolution in your riffs. Do you write riffs with a melody in mind, or is it a more intuitive "jamming" style process to find the riff?
Again, I can’t talk for Ted, and he made like half of the music just like I made the other half. I am definitely not trying to make anything avant-gardish or dissonant at all, at the same time I almost loathe the standard riffs that were so present in early ’80s asphalt heavy and cock rock as well, so I am trying THESE DAYS to make effective simple riffs with good rhythm and original and well-crafted details as well, or something that just works for a vocals line without it sounding soulless and standard. I am winging it all the way, and it’s always taking a huge chance instead of having found a formula and sticking to it. But I am not trying to fly off either, I just wanna make proper old metal with old sound here.
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Darkthrone's new album, The Underground Resistance, is now available from Peaceville.