Mork on Primitive Black Metal and Cultivating Atmosphere (Interview)
Thomas Eriksen, the man behind Mork, is a welcome, singular, individual in black metal. He’s devoted to primitive black metal, best friends with Nocturno Culto, and works out of a small Norwegian town surrounded by forestry called Halden. Conversely, he’s hungry to play as many live shows as possible, the host of a currently on hiatus podcast, and formerly sold coffee as merch. All of this is to say that Mork is a shining example of how second-wave black metal should exist in a world three decades divorced from its inception.
Musically, Mork appeals to classic black metal sensibilities with his upcoming sixth album Dypet, venturing through desolate pastures. The record is out March 24 via Peaceville Records. It’s the grooviest and most melodic record Eriksen has released thus far, leaning on an atmosphere built from bones. He marries the sound with a modern mindset of personal cultivation. He’s unafraid of examining the style for what it is and its place in 2023, though it’s mostly as a personal exercise turned lifestyle.
Ahead of Dypet’s release, Eriksen spoke about the darkness buried inside AC/DC, Call of Cthulhu video games from 2005, and more. He was also adamant that he wants to play more shows. If you’re a promoter or know of one, contact him. He’d love to play near you.
It’s great to hear your brand of black metal—primal yet legible—only get sharper throughout your career.
What I can say right off is that if you listen to the first few albums I did, Isebakke and Den Vandrende Skygge, they are quite lo-fi—typical black metal stuff. But since then, I’ve found my own path. I tell most people that I don’t give a shit about the rules anymore. These days, it’s most important to be true to my creativity and the spontaneity of being in the studio. I don’t want to be a dick, but I think Mork has found its thing. It’s self-defined, so whatever I make of it will be Mork. I still keep the thread alive. I don’t go all over the place. It’s still within some parameters but not as strict as it used to be. I would say the first three albums were documents of me paving my own path and finding out where I stood in the terrain.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems you were figuring out black metal on those earlier releases. Now that you’ve grown comfortable with it, you realize how much you can play around with its framework.
Absolutely, though, I should point out that I was still striving for originality early on. I was aware that I was trying to strike outside the norm even though I was trying to make the albums sound primitive and necro, if you know what I mean. What can I say? I’m actually proud of the first albums, too. When I listen to them now, I can’t compare them to anything. They’re their own thing. Obviously, everyone says my influences are Darkthrone and Burzum. Yes, they are, but you can’t point out anything that’s ripped off. It’s got its own pulse.
What attracts me and others to your music is your adherence to your idea of primitive black metal. Why do you feel that style works better over symphonic or overtly progressive black metal?
That goes back to primitive (urges) within the human mind. It’s just my preference. I started recording black metal demos 20 years ago which ended up being Rota til ondskap, if you know that one. When I created those early tracks, I felt I was tapping into something primal. There’s something about the primitive sounds and the Norwegian forests and the raw emotion within myself that just clicks. It works.
That is something I recognize in early Burzum and early Darkthrone. I could mention other bands too, but the spectrum of bands I listen to now is quite small. It’s those two. All the rest went by the wayside ‘cuz I found what I needed from those two. That’s the music my mind was after and when I tapped into that on my own it called true for me. That’s why I’ve been doing it for 10 years since my debut came out.
I’ve considered similar thoughts about those two acts; they’re two sides of the equation for black metal that everyone evolved out of. However, when talking about influences, I know you’re a big AC/DC and Motorhead fan. It’s strange ‘cuz I can hear it in your music even though they’re, for lack of a better term, party bands.
You know, AC/DC and Motorhead are all attitude. It’s pure confidence in their acts. Listen to AC/DC; it’s simple, four-by-four beats, and they are the best at it. But, you know, Black Sabbath is a huge influence on me. Actually, I’m more of a classic rock guy than a black metal guy, in private. AC/DC have dark stuff, though; one of my favorite albums is For Those About to Rock from 1981. Look at the lyrical themes, and listen to the riff’s tonality. Even the guitar sound is dark. Many people I talk to don’t get that, but I immediately recognized it.
Without Motorhead, we wouldn’t have anything. That’s just the way it is. We wouldn’t have Venom, and without Venom, we wouldn’t have Bathory, and without Bathory, we wouldn’t have Darkthrone.
Where I’m from around Toronto, we grew up with AC/DC 'cause of the boomer dads. But I’m curious if they’re big in your hometown, Halden.
I’ve realized there’s a reason they’re the biggest band in the world. They’re huge in any country. Everyone here has heard of AC/DC; everyone has their vinyls in their collection. Their music touches so many people, which gives a thread over to what I’m doing. If you dive into my stuff, there’s a ton of groovy stuff.
You make a good point; AC/DC stick with the fundamentals. In a similar way, your sharp fundamentals are what appeal to me. You’re honing those black metal fundamentals.
That’s what comes naturally to me. Of course, I could do only blast beats and only 10-minute tracks, but that stuff doesn’t resonate with me in the long term. To paraphrase Darkthrone” “We make everyday bread that you eat. People can make cakes too, but we make bread.” One important aspect for me is that a Mork album is varied. I need to have changing tempos and cannot have a single thread.
On that note, the new album is slower and more earthy than Katedralen. How do your influences and outlook compare between albums?
That’s funny because I can’t really explain it. When I was finished with Dypet and listened back to it before sending it to the label, I was anxious that I didn’t know how people would receive it. It was slower than I intended it to be. But it’s done and on its way out. People have to take it, and I have to take the critique as well. But like I said, I try to expand with each album. I try to be more open creatively. What came out then and there in the studio is what you hear on tape. I didn’t think much about the tempos aside from awareness that there were some blast beats. I just hope it works.
I would say, if you listen to some of the tracks like “Bortgang,” it’s a slow burner. When you make music like that, you’re exposing yourself. You’re a bit naked. It’s not covered with blast beats or fast guitars, so there’s a vulnerability to it, and I enjoy it. That track is a highlight for me. I’m proud of it because it’s gutsy to do things plain.
I want to discuss the podcast you ran over the pandemic because that’s rare for black metal. How did those conversations affect how you view and compose music?
The podcast was basically a pandemic project. People ask me if there will be new episodes, and I have to tell them I’m busy with other projects. I’m not ready to put it away forever, though. I would do another episode if the planets are aligned. Regarding the process, though, it was great. I appreciate those few years because many of the conversations and interactions were magical for me. It was two people in a relaxed setting, both before and after recording. It was a few good years to get to know my buddies even more, or people I didn’t know too well before.
As you said, it was unusual for black metal. I get some flack for that. There is some very trve black metal guys over here that have taken a disliking to me. I don't know what the issue is, but I don’t think they can arrest me on the music side. It may be something about me selling coffee bags with the Mork logo.
I bought some of Imperial Triumphant’s coffee, and my buddies said similar things. If you’d buy a t-shirt, though, why wouldn’t you buy coffee?
That’s my point exactly. Those shitheads who say that about me are selling t-shirts. We’re all different Gene Simmons. The coffee was just for fun anyways. Yet, I think they also dislike me for lifting the skirt and unveiling the truth with my podcast. On it, people were exposing the early days of black metal, and I don’t think people appreciate that too much. I don’t give a fuck about that, though, ‘cuz for me, it’s about the music and the atmosphere. I’m not here to pretend to be a Christian-eating troll who lives in a cave. We’re living in 2023. We’re grown-up people living regular lives, but we have this amazing art surrounding us. That’s what it’s about for me.
You said you were the only black metal artist in your hometown, Halden. How was that? A community can be so important for music and establishing oneself.
I’d say it’s been positive. I have become a curiosity. Black metal these days is viewed as a Norwegian culture export. It’s still somewhat dangerous, but the dangerous part is more of a fascination. You know what I mean? I’ve been getting pats on the back. It’s wrong to think that I’m exotic in Norway, but I’m almost exotic in this city, and through that, I’ve gotten coverage from the local press. It’s good! I appreciate that people are trying to discover the art and not just the controversy.
It’s nice that they treat you as a respectable artist instead of an object of panic.
I’m not just the Antichrist church burner up the street. Truth be told, I’m an only child. I write everything myself; it’s a one-man band. I enjoy being the only black sheep in the community here. I’ve found my place. I have no idea how my life would’ve been if it weren’t for Mork. I would do this even without the record label and the recognition.
It’s a bit of therapy—a spiritual exercise. To be able to speak to you in Toronto and release my sixth album in March is a bonus on top of having the gift in my life. I sound like a born-again Christian now, but it’s a gift. I grew up as an outcast and a loner. I was never the cool kid, and I think that’s something that rings true with most artists. You are the strange guy in the schoolyard. As such, I think it’s a good thing and the right thing that I found this way of life.
What external pieces of art, whether they’re films or books, were you digging around the time of Dypet’s creation?
I have to say Lovecraft and Cthulhu, which have fascinated me for years. My way into that was Metallica’s “Call of Ktulu,” which is a beautiful piece of music. For years I’ve been dreaming of doing my own “Call of Ktulu” which is Dypet’s title track. I mix that with Norwegian folklore. The Cthulhu thing led me to an Xbox game from years ago, Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth.” You can say what you want about it, but I got sucked into its atmosphere. There’s something the soundtrack that amplified it for me. I picked it up because I liked Lovecraft’s stuff 15 or 20 years ago. It shaped the album's art and concept even though the other tracks are stand-alone.
Get the album here.