Mork’s Icy Norwegian Black Metal Froze the High-Noon Sun in Las Vegas’s Deadly Heat (Interview)
Music festivals are gauntlets of both joy and punishment: you try to juggle must-see bands and parties with friends you rarely see from near and far all while still trying to meet your body’s basic needs. Inevitably, Machiavellian set times paired with late-night peer pressure for more hijinks means sleep is the easiest casualty, so each day of festivities trudges harder than the previous as bodily wear and the varied stimulants/drugs you've probably been doing all take their toll. Finally, it ends in a haze which seems like both an eternity and the blink of an eye, and suddenly you’re back at work thinking you need a vacation from your vacation, especially if your sleep-deprived body caught some sort of whatever sickness was floating among the hoards of fellow fest-goers.
Now imagine all of that -- a true triathlon of endurance and excess if there ever was one -- but in a city that calls such a frenetic episode just a plain ole’ Tuesday. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the Psycho Las Vegas experience.
Being a Los Angeles resident for nearly a decade, I’ve picked up how many locals here treat Las Vegas like a weekend getaway locale. In that sense, Psycho Las Vegas feels like an extension of the Los Angeles metal scene, which is no hyperbole considering the fest was originally focused on doom/stoner metal and actually held in Southern California from 2013 to 2015. When it moved out to the Hard Rock Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas starting in 2016, the stunning and already genre-varied lineup was too loud to ignore given the short distance, so I made my first sojourn as an adult to Sin City. And while I did learn a valuable lesson on my first trip to always check hotel beds for blood-sucking parasites that will never leave my nightmares, I was also bitten by the charms of the festival and have been a captive attendee ever since.
The announcement of Virgin Hotels buying out the Hard Rock Casino prompted the festival to move locations to Mandalay Bay. In many ways, this was a big change not only in setting the festival now directly on the Las Vegas Strip but also providing far larger venues for the bands to perform in. And fuck, did this year’s lineup please everyone with larger-than-life bands from the Tom G. Warrior-led Hellhammer tribute Triumph of Death, prog-rock olympians Opeth, hammer-horror-loving doom legends Electric Wizard, and surprise Megadeth replacements The Misfits.
Besides gods among men, there were plenty of delights to be had with bands who don't regularly grace big-name glossy magazine covers. One I particularly had my eye on was Norwegian black metal act Mork. Their 2017 full-length Eremittens dal caught my attention and retained it through to this year’s riff-upon-blackened-riff-filled headbanger Det svarte juv (which I included in my best-of-2019-so-far list).
Mork functions like many prolific black metal bands: it was the one-man creation of Thomas Eriksen, but through the help of friends and compatriots, it was possible to transform Mork from a studio project to a stage project. The fledgling project has grown immensely in a short time having after two albums signed to illustrious metal label Peaceville Records. Clearly, the label recognized the same magic in the band that’s drawn guest collaborators from Dimmu Borgir, 1349, and Darkthrone. That magic being the essence of great black metal, always respecting where you came from while never sacrificing a distinctive and personal vision.
Psycho Las Vegas, along with two subsequent Southern California gigs, were Mork’s premiere performances on American soil this year. I was elated to have the opportunity to interview Mork mastermind Eriksen only a few hours after they kicked ass at the truly ungodly festival hour of 12:15 p.m. We were escorted up to the staff suite high up in the Delano Tower where a very large black velvet painting of Iron Maiden’s Eddie kept us company while we chatted.
-- Joseph Aprill
So this is your first time in the United States. How has your experience been so far?
It’s my first time in the States as an artist. I actually went here in 1997 on a trip with my family. We were on holidays. We went, it was during the summer though, to Florida. So I’ve been here before and we’ve played Canada a couple years ago with Mork, but this is the very first time on American soil as Mork and it’s very exciting. We’re really happy that you guys had us over here.
How do you feel your performance at Psycho Las Vegas went today?
You know what, we were having line checks, sound checks, rigging, and it was in this big empty hall [the Mandalay Bay inside venue called House of Blues]. To us, this was a big venue. We thought there couldn’t be anyone showing up here at noon, but all of sudden [makes a pop noise] it was packed. That was not expected, but that has actually happened to us before and we don’t take it for granted. So obviously it was a great way to start off our career in America.
How has Vegas in particular been as a first experience with the band?
Yea, this is Sin City after all. An insane place in the middle of the desert and you know I’m from Norway, so I’ve never experienced this before. It’s like in the movies, like Leaving Las Vegas and…
Fear and Loathing?
Yea, there you go, that and the Hangover films. I don’t know, it’s insane, but it was really cool to finally get here. It’s not a particularly black metal place, but we’re having fun. We got in last night and haven’t had much time to get up to too much wrong or stupid stuff yet [laughs]. We did get to go in a car up and down the strip a couple times, once while it was light out and the other at night with all the neon. I had to see that. We spent a couple of nights in LA beforehand and actually hung out at the Rainbow Bar & Grill, which was literally a dream come true!
Speaking of which, obviously Rotting Christ had to cancel their shows out here due to the visa situation, but you guys and Tomb Mold are still going ahead with the shows in San Diego and LA. So what are you looking forward to with that?
LA to me is special because with the Sunset Strip, the Rainbow, the Whisky a Go Go and everything else. It’s rock-'n'-roll history, you know. Something I’ve been having on the top of my bucket list for a long, long time. My bucket list was that I wanted my music to pay the way to LA. Now we did it and I still can’t believe it. We also found out the Rainbow has an AirBnB apartment and stayed there.
I had no idea about that.
It’s actually really nice and just a short walk down to the pub. So you know we hung out there and got to catch a show at the Whisky as well. I’m an old AC/DC fan and the very first AC/DC vocalist, Dave Evans, he did a gig at the Whisky the night before we came here. So we got to go and even met Neil Turbin who was also there. Carmine Appice too! Just insane you know, but I guess that’s average life in LA.
In a previous interview you mentioned a big part of your desire to visit LA was Lemmy. In the context of Lemmy dying not too long ago and clearly you being a big fan, what does that mean for you being in the presence of where he lived?
That was insane, you know, and I don’t care that much about the statue, pictures and stuff but the actual fact he lived there. The first night we were in town we got to know a person who lives in the same building that Lemmy lived in and who knew him. So we actually got to go into the building; we saw his apartment and everything. I didn’t expect that to happen. So we poured down quite a bit of Jack and Coke that night and we were hung over the entire next day in LA [laughs].
Growing up, how did you come across heavy metal and I assume later black metal? How did you know that was music meant for you?
Black metal, that actually came a bit further down the road actually. I started in punk rock with Sex Pistols, the Clash, Buzzcocks, and some Ramones. Not that much Misfits, but I will see the Misfits tonight. I know that my bass player, Robin, he is a huge Misfits fan so this is a big break for him. After punk rock I discovered AC/DC, which is still right here [Eriksen makes a light fist-bump to the heart] and the other obvious ones. Maiden has been a huge part for me. Metallica, Megadeth… and you know just evolving like that for me.
But in one year, I think it was 2001, I went to Roskilde festival in Denmark where I saw Mayhem live for the first time. I was standing on the stage because my father and I had a relative who was working the festival. So we got to go around with these VIP pass and I was only 16 years old. With Mayhem I was like, “who fucking was this?” with barbed wire, the cutting with knives, and the bass drums blasting. So that was my start with black metal. After that I went home and searched online for what is this. I found Burzum. Obviously Darkthrone. Those bands shaped me into black metal. It really hit me hard and I discovered that this is something I really can do. To live it.
Was there a particular event that changed you from being a fan to feeling like this was something you wanted to create?
I’ve been playing in bands for many, many years. I started off in 1997 or something and I started Mork in 2004. I just jumped into black metal. I tried it without that much knowledge. I just tried it with some demos and all of a sudden I just evolved into it and now I feel its natural. It’s been a nice ride.
I certainly feel some of Darkthrone and Burzum in your music. Is it anything about them in particular that pulls you in?
Yea, you know you can’t find a higher quality of black metal than that basically. Burzum, he has the atmosphere… real atmosphere. Darkthrone is more the rock-'n’-roll part. When those two... mate [laughs], you get Mork.
That’s a perfect blend.
I’ve been honored to work with the Darkthrone guys. Nocturno Culto sang on some of my songs and he’s a friend of mine. Fenriz has supported me and my band a lot. He’s talked about us and had us on his radio show. We message each other every once in a while. Really nice guys, but they hate to make appearances and be seen. So they live their lives. I remember I visited Nocturno Culto once where he lives. Had a very nice dinner and listened to old Pink Floyd records. Really cool guys so it’s a shame that they don’t do anything live but that would probably take away some of the magic as well.
That’s the surreal part for me of now having seen Mork live. Burzum and Darkthrone albums, that’s what you listen to at home and you don’t get to experience songs like that live. Seeing you guys it kind of felt at times like seeing Darkthrone live.
That’s good. I’m honored to hear you say that because I was hoping we could take this sound a bit further in honor of these guys. Beneath it all, it's kind of a tribute but also has evolved as well. Having released four albums now it’s a really big part of me, so it’s not a tribute anymore. It’s more me, you know. It’s a one-man band and I’m an only child. Call me an egotistical selfish asshole, but I get to do just what I channel and having the boys on stage with me it just works really well.
With your songwriting I feel like you definitely fit in with the idea of Norwegian black metal in that your lyrics are in Norwegian. For the scene in general but also for you personally, why is Norway such central part to your art?
It’s in the name, you know. “True Norwegian Black Metal.” You can’t play that in America. A Portuguese band can’t play Norwegian Black Metal. It’s something really special to that little country that I come from. I remember when I was listening to Burzum records and Darkthrone records. Sitting looking at the artwork and through the lyric sheets. The Norwegian lyrics and titles gave me even more atmosphere. I don’t want to step on anyone but personally when I hear Norwegian black metal with English lyrics it doesn’t hit me as hard actually. It has to be sung in Norwegian. There’s something, not tribal but… true and raw about that. I don’t know [laughs].
I like the way a band like Enslaved talked about it. I think it was Ivar Bjørnson who said it makes him feel rooted.
For sure! We come to America, we play Turkey, Canada, Germany, Poland… and wherever we’ve played the music has been “exotic." It’s something special in not being just another rock band. And yea, it makes us feel special too [laughs].
Along with the Norwegian focus in your songwriting I always find interesting black metal bands that incorporate great clean singing and you definitely have that. Was there a conscious decision you made to include that or did it just come as a natural fit for Mork?
With my previous bands I’ve been only doing clean singing, so it’s always been a part of me. It actually took some time to include that into Mork because I was a bit scared of what the hardcore black metal fans out there and my peers would think. In the beginning, I wasn’t in the scene. I wasn’t buddies with all these guys but now I am. I feel that black metal is about doing the best that you can and being the best that you can be. So why shouldn’t I just let the flow go. Not just create music based on Burzum and Darkthrone records but based on myself. So I pull in inspiration from whatever I feel. I’m not genre based at all. If a song is good it doesn’t matter what genre it is. It could be disco, country… I love music.
How did it come about having a guest musician playing a Norwegian fiddle [Hardanger fiddle] on one of your songs?
There’s actually a couple. We have a track on our second album, the track is called “Den lukkede porten." We even played that one today. The title means “the closed gate," and there we have some Hardanger fiddle. That’s a friend of mine [Freddy Holm] and that’s a real fiddle, not a keyboard. On our third album the title track “Eremittens dal," “the valley of the hermit,'' the intro for the song as well [is] played on cello, and that’s also done by the same guy. The one we played this morning is very Norwegian with the riff [Eriksen begins singing the song’s melody]. It really fits that kind of folkish Norwegian fiddling.
So [it] was a no-brainer to include that. He’s a great friend of mine and from the same town as me where we often go to the same pub. He’s actually helped me mix the stuff too. The last two albums he and I mixed. He’s a really talented guy and the only one I know from my hometown who actually lives off music. He’s hired everywhere. He played some stuff with Taylor Swift even… he’s all over the place. He’s a very nimble instrumentalist and if he wants to learn something he just does it. A highly impressive guy and I take my hat off to him!
In other interviews you’ve mentioned while writing and composing this latest album it was a dark time in your life, such as some tragic events happening to your family. Any fan of music knows it can help you get through hard times in life. How do you feel working on Mork helps you? Along with that have you contemplated at all how you have or will feel when fans come up to you saying a song or album of yours got them through difficult times?
I’ve never yet experienced that with fans though I’ll be deeply humbled if it does. Of course music does help people get through things. One experience I have had with my music was when we played in Turkey, in a city called Izmir. There was a boy there in a Burzum t-shirt who had come from Iran just to see Mork. He had been imprisoned in Iran because he was listening to blasphemous metal as a Muslim. So his parents had to pay bail and he was told he had to recommit to Islam.
Instead he just went out of jail and saw Mork in Turkey.
I think that shows black metal really is important to some people in really being a true rebellion for some because they’re suppressed by religion one way or another in their lives. That hit me hard in a strange way because I just went down there as a rock-'n’-roll band to play a gig and have fun. I wasn’t expecting to encounter anything like that. As for my own experience while making that album my father passed away, my mother got sick, I lost two grandparents, and my girlfriend broke up with me. Everything wasn’t good and it felt like I got served with everything at once in that one year.
I don’t think I could function as a social being without being able to make my music. That’s how important it is for me. If someone chopped off my hands I’d still find a way to make music.
Mork's latest album Det svarte juv released April 19th this year via Peaceville Records.