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interview by: Roberto Martinelli

I never got black metal. I dabbled a little in Marduk, Cradle of Filth and Impaled Nazarene, but I could never understand where the appeal lay. That is, until I heard Immortal. Then everything clicked, and suddenly I was able to hear black metal. This was also the case for two other Maelstromers, Steppenvvolf and Liam. Since this time, Immortal has remained my favorite black metal band. Their newest album, 2002's Sons of Northern Darkness, is yet another in a line of masterpieces from this seminal Norwegian group.

When Steppenvvolf and I started our metal journalism careers, it has always been one of our underlying goals to one day interview Immortal. It was almost silly how giddy Steppenvvolf and I were when we found out Immortal were going to play Wacken 2000, and that we might be able to interview them. We couldn't wait to see what the band looked like underneath all the corny make up, leather and spikes that has been the trademark of their career, and to hear what the singer's real voice sounds like when he's not doing his demonic Popeye vocals. Try as we might, we couldn't find them anywhere.

At the risk of sounding absurdly dramatic, the quest is at an end, for I was presented with the chance to interview Abbath, the deep voiced, large jawed, abrupt and arrogant leader and sole remaining original member of the band, the man who consistently writes the best riffs in all of black metal. As is often the case, it turns out Abbath is himself a total metal nut, and that Immortal, being human after all, have their own quirky stories and idiosyncrasies, despite being demon warriors from the realm of Blashyrkh. That is indeed what ultimately makes them interesting: figureheads in the infamous Norwegian black metal scene of the early '90s, but who are also good friends with very real dreams and goals; friends whose lives are deeply interwoven, as evidenced by former bandmate Demonaz building his own company while living in Abbath's family's house. Immortal is the best black metal band ever. Here is my chat with Abbath.

MaelstroMaelstrom: Hi. How are you?

Abbath:....fine! It's cold before the storm.

MaelstroMaelstrom: Is it really, really cold in Norway now?

Abbath: Nah. It's actually raining here in Bergen. It's a rainy city.

Maelstrom: I've been there once, and it rained a lot.

Abbath: When was this?

Maelstrom: A couple of years ago, in the summer. I made a tour of Europe. I went to Wacken, and I've always wanted to see Norway, so I went up. I really liked it.

Abbath: You were in Wacken? Was this '99 or 2000?

Maelstrom: 2000. I saw you guys. (...) To start off, I want to talk about your new album, of course. Although I liked Damned in Black quite a lot, I felt it seemed a little bit rushed. Sons of Northern Darkness feels like the album Damned in Black was meant to be. How do you feel about this?

Abbath: .......hehehe....That was one hell of a good question...Well, maybe you have a point there; maybe you're right. Damned in Black was a little bit rushed, so to speak....There's a couple songs that we never got...right. You know what I mean?

Maelstrom: I have to say that the riffs themselves on Damned in Black are outstanding, but the album as a whole feels like it's over too fast. What were you thinking about when you said some of the songs weren't quite right? Give me an example.

Abbath: ....this is a very difficult question, you know? And I think I know what you mean, but how to explain it?

Maelstrom: I think it has something to do with coming off of your album that was At the Heart of Winter, that was so huge and so epic, personally, and for other Immortal fans who I know, were kind of hoping for something more like that. You sort of had that sound, but the songs were more compact.

Abbath: Well, we felt to the hell am I going to explain this?....

Maelstrom: What I'm getting at, Abbath, is that the new album sounds like the best stuff from Damned in Black mixed with the best stuff from At the Heart of Winter together in a really great album.

Abbath: I think with The Sons of Northern Darkness we are doing a lot of new stuff.

Maelstrom: What are you doing that's new?

Abbath: We have more heavy stuff, more old school metal, more like 80s influence on this album as well. But we never plan; we just follow our feeling when we make songs. I don't find the words. I never find the words. That's a reason I hate to do interviews.

Maelstrom: Well, you find the right music, so that's what matters.
It's so cool how Horgh's drumming contributes to the hooks and melody of the music. Who is Horgh, and where did he come from?

Abbath: He started to play with us the 1st of May '96. He had been a drummer for a long, long time. He played in bands that played more heavy metal stuff. His first band was called heavy duty, which played a lot of Judas Priest stuff. The band he played in before he came to Immortal was called Lost at Last. They played more progressive metal, or something. He quit that band before he started with Immortal. He didn't find any bands which gave him the right stimulants. He heard we needed a drummer and he gave us a call. When he started at the first rehearsal, he didn't really know how to play these blast speeds. I showed him the technique, because I knew how to play it. He took it real quickly; it didn't take him long before he was into it. Technically, he was a great drummer, and a very big fan of Brian Downey from Thin Lizzy. Dave Holland...

When we did Blizzard Beasts, I and Demonaz had all the songs ready, so I had to learn him the beats. So he had very little contribution on the Blizzard Beasts album. It was when I started to work on At the Heart of Winter, you can really hear that that's his drumming.

Maelstrom: Speaking of drumming - and you just mentioned that you taught him the beats - you had done the drums on a couple of Immortal albums, and you did that Det Hedenske Folk thing. Do you have any plans to do any more drumming?

Abbath: I'm not a good drummer at all, but I knew how to play this blast beats. We didn't have a drummer when we did Pure Holocaust. Eric (a.k.a. Grim, credited with playing drums on Pure Holocaust) came in during the mixing, and he joined the band and we decided to have him on the cover because we wanted to present it as a band. After two tours, he didn't get better, and we were ready to make Battles in the North. We wanted to intensify stuff, and he didn't follow that, so I decided to do the drums on Battles in the North as well. I'm just glad I don't have to do it anymore! It was always me behind the drum kit and Demonaz on guitar at the rehearsal place, in the early days. (laugh)

Maelstrom: Let's talk about Demonaz a little bit. I read an interview you gave to Imotep a few years ago in which you said your grand design at the time would be to one day have Demonaz return and to have Immortal have two guitarists - you would stay on guitar. Is this dream still even possible?

Abbath: Well, that won't happen. No.

Maelstrom: Is Demonaz not going to get better?

Abbath: Well, he's better, but he won't go back to the band. He feels it's too late. He just wants to write lyrics. He started this company a few years ago that's going real well.

Maelstrom: What's his company?

Abbath: It's something called The Media Profile. He's making some stuff for companies, I don't know exactly what it is; some commercial stuff.

Maelstrom: Is it music?

Abbath: No! No, no, no. It's just this idea he had, and he's doing real well, you know? He's very strong. If he wants to build something, he will. He's totally into Immortal, and I talk to him on a daily basis. He's already been starting working on lyrics for my new compositions. He's definitely back mentally. You won't see him on the stage anymore.

Maelstrom: So you have new compositions already, huh?

Abbath: Yeah! Huh-huh-huh.

Maelstrom: Are you really inspired being on a label that's really supporting you now, or does it come when it comes?

Abbath: It comes when it comes. I can go two weeks without touching the guitar, then all of a sudden "Ah! I feel inspired today." I can sit all day working.

Maelstrom: You've always called Demonaz your brother.

Abbath: My blood brother.

Maelstrom: Yeah. How did you guys meet originally?

Abbath: I met him in '88, and he played in this band called Amputation. I played in a band called Old Funeral. Our drummer in Old Funeral met Demonaz at a Slayer concert in Oslo. Then we got in contact with this guy and his environment. In '90 I was sick of Old Funeral, and he was sick of Amputation. I came over to him at this party, and said: "I really want to try to make this band with you. I'm sick of Old Funeral; these guys are not serious." I was thinking bigger. He totally agreed with me. He was: "Yeah. Fuck yeah. Fuck 'em all. Let's make this band." And he already had a name for this band. Haha.

Maelstrom: I have sort of a crazy fan question to ask you. It's a little bit obscure. In the Burzum album Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, Vikernes makes a dedication to Demonaz and Fenriz as being the keepers of the brown lamp. Do you know what I'm talking about? (the album reads "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss er dedikert til mine boedre, Fenriz og Demonaz. Nordens Skalder, foelg den brune lampe og dens Hofding!" - Roberto) What does that mean?

Abbath: I'm not sure right now.

Maelstrom: Is that some sort of meaning in Norwegian folklore, or something?

Abbath: I don't connect right now. It could be a joke, as well. I was the guy who actually got Varg (Vikernes) into this scene, you know.

Maelstrom: Oh, tell us about that.

Abbath: I got him into Old Funeral, did you know that? And through Old Funeral, he got into the scene. Also through Immortal. And then he got in touch with Euronymous and Mayhem. When I quit Old Funeral for starting this band with Demonaz, they were laughing at us: putting on outfits with makeup, start to play primitive black metal, everyone was laughing at us. Even Varg. It was very short! (laugh) Shortly after, Varg quit Old Funeral to start Burzum, and he started to put on makeup. And also the guys in Old Funeral started to play more primitive black metal after a while, after they saw that I and Demonaz had this thing going. I feel that we, Immortal, were before our time with a lot of stuff.

Maelstrom: You started that fast stuff.

Abbath: Even though we were influenced by other bands that came before us, Bathory and stuff like that, I feel that definitely we have our own thing, you know?

Maelstrom: I totally agree.

Abbath: A lot of bands and people are very jealous that we have these skills.

Maelstrom: Let's talk about something you mentioned, about the image that you have, with the paint and all the stuff you put on. In particular, after At the Heart of Winter came out, I read in a few interviews that you regretted the photo session that is inside the booklet.

Abbath: Yeah, but that was fucked up. That was the record label who fucked up.

Maelstrom: Ok, be that as it may, despite your regretting those pictures, why do you persist in looking like action figures?

Abbath: That's a part of the split personality thing. Immortal comes from the inner demons of ourselves. The war paint, the demon war paint, it's like a presentation of that. We are presenting ourselves as figures from the world we are writing about. As demons and warriors, guardians of the borders of chaos. I've always been into image: Venom, Bathory, with these swords and the boots...It's more magic, it's more atmosphere. Even Manowar: the first time I saw the Into Glory Ride album in '83, I thought: "Fuck, this is cool. I really have to check this out. These guys look like they're from Cimmeria."

Maelstrom: So that's what drew you to it, and that's what you figure will draw people to Immortal: the image.

Abbath: Yeah. We definitely have our own thing. And of course I was very fascinated by Kiss. I was seven years old when I first discovered Kiss. I'm still fascinated by that band. Gene Simmons was one of my heroes when I was a kid. My whole fucking room had Kiss posters, and Gene Simmons was like the coolest guy. And Cronos, and Quorthon, they have been role models for me. It's different reasons why we use paint. It was my idea. Mayhem started to use paint, but for them it's corpsepaint; for us it's war paint. (laugh)

Maelstrom: (laugh) You mentioned growing up and listening to Kiss. What was it like growing up in Norway? As you got involved in black metal at an early age, how did you fit in with kids your age? Were you viewed as weird, do you think?

Abbath: Yes. You know, we've always been outsiders. I came from the countryside.

Maelstrom: What's the name of your town?

Abbath: Os. It's a very little place. We were this little gang who started to listen to this music, and they have always looked at us as weird people up here.

Maelstrom: Even now? I've heard that that the records that have the most sales that are from Norway are black metal records. Do you think that's true?

Abbath: The biggest export, yeah.

Maelstrom: Do you think that's affected the way Norwegian people view black metal?

Abbath: You know, I think the people now are looking more into it. The other day, we got a whole page with a 5/6 for our new album, with a big picture in the largest newspaper in Norway. The guy who gave it this 5/6, this guy is a fuck up, you know? He's a poser. But he really looked into - he can write shit about anything - this time he really looked into our stuff. The thing he wrote about us was very fascinating. I didn't believe my own eyes when I saw who had written that.

I think the quality is different now. A lot of the bands who started same as us are much better now: better musicians, more professional. Like us, we're still the same band, but we're so much fucking better at what we do. And now, it's...I don't want to say it's more accepted, but it's more like they understand it much more; there's more respect to it, I think.

Maelstrom: That's good. But, do you like the fact that there's more respect to it? I mean, that may seem like a dumb question, but I think that some black metal fans would say that you wouldn't want that respect because it's coming from a non-underground place. How do you feel about that?

Abbath: We are still the same band. We are a brutal band and we play brutal music. But it's quality. And I would say that if we can make the scene stronger and bigger, that can have this contribution and make more people into this kind of music, that's just victory. I would say that we are definitely an underground band, but we look at ourselves as on the front.

Maelstrom: The days of "holocaust metal" are long past, yet there is still quite a demand for the material of these days. Why not write any more songs like "Grim and Frostbitten Kingdoms"?

Abbath: I haven't thought about it. Maybe we will. It's the time, you know? Also we are working differently. But you can hear a lot of Battles.... Sons of Northern Darkness has a lot of links to our old albums.

Maelstrom: Oh, sure, it still sounds like Immortal, but the approach is different.

Abbath: Well, we have a much better production, and we play better. Also Horgh has a different style than I had.

MaelstroMaelstrom: Bergen is an interesting place. It's a major hub of Norwegian black metal. Most of the bands there can be found hanging out a bar called Garage. Is this true?

Abbath: Yeah.

MaelstroMaelstrom: I would imaging you get a lot of fans who come to meet you, because it's easy to find you.

Abbath: You know, I always call first. "Are there any fans down there?" (laugh)

MaelstroMaelstrom: (laugh)

Abbath: "No, no, no. You can come! There's no one! No black metal tourists here today."

Maelstrom: Does this get to be kind of tiresome?

Abbath: No, it's no problem. Around summertime, a lot of tourists - we call 'em black metal tourists - they come over here. Most of them are real cool. Some of them settle down here. Some of them came here as tourists, and they've been living here a couple of years and talk Norwegian perfectly, and some people come back every year. There's a very few fuck ups. It's really cool.

Maelstrom: I think it's a unique thing to have. Because your band has made it quite big, and to be able, as a fan, to be able to meet you without too much effort, to meet you, is quite an unusual thing.

Abbath: Fenriz of Darkthrone, he sits at Elm Street, the rick pub in Oslo. Have you been there?

Maelstrom: Yeah.

Abbath: He's making these jokes with them. He comes in - he knows there are black metal tourists there, you know, who really wants to meet Fenriz - and he comes in with these pink pants.

Maelstrom: That's great.

Abbath: Just to see their expression. (laugh) They try to come in looking as evil as possible and then Mr. Evil himself has come in with pink pants.

Maelstrom: He's a hilarious guy.

Abbath: He's awesome. He's a good friend.

Maelstrom: On the website of Nuclear Blast, they have some sort of metal box set of Sons of Northern Darkness. What is that?

Abbath: That's pure metal. It's 1.7 kilos heavy. Hehehe. You need to screw it up with tools.

Maelstrom: (laugh) Is it a CD?

Abbath: Yeah, it's a CD. It's only 10,000 copies of it. It's never been done before.

Maelstrom: Anything you want to mention about stuff that's coming up, or tours?

Abbath: We are touring Europe with Hypocrisy in April.

Maelstrom: How about the U.S.?

Abbath: We hope to come to America this year as well. They want us to come to Australia and New Zealand in August. Hopefully we will play some festivals as well in the summer.

Maelstrom: People in San Francisco really, really want to see you, especially after we didn't get to see you (in 2000). (Immortal was supposed to play the Cocodrie in April of 2000 but didn't show up.)

Abbath: Yeah, we really have to go back there. That was fucked up.

Maelstrom: Yeah. People's corpsepaint was running 'cause the tears were coming down their face.

Abbath: You live in San Francisco?

Maelstrom: Yeah. I was at the show. We missed ya.

Abbath: Yeah, it was this guy, the promoter of the American and Mexican tour. They didn't have this dialog. If we flew to San Francisco, we wouldn't have been able to come back to Mexico. I can't really remember how that situation was, but it was totally fucked up. There was no way we could come to San Francisco. That was fucking irritating. I really want to see the Bay Area scene. I really hope to meet Jeff Bescera (Possessed). He's one of my favorite singers.

Maelstrom: I'm sure he'll be thrilled to meet you too.

Abbath: He's definitely one of my favorite singers of all time. It's a real pity that he sits in a wheelchair. So, Roberto, I really hope...the tour isn't set for America, but we really have to come back to California to play.

Maelstrom: I hope so. Abbath, thanks a lot for doing this interview. When I started doing this metal journalism, one of my goals was to one day interview Immortal.

Abbath: Really?

Maelstrom: I'm absolutely serious. You're my favorite black metal band.

Abbath: Ha! I'm flattered.

Maelstrom: I got into black metal because of you...

Abbath: That's real nice to hear.

Maelstrom: When I went to Wacken, that was my first big metal journalism thing, and my colleague and I were like, "we have to get Immortal!" We looked everywhere for you. We didn't find you, but finally my chance is here.

Abbath: I was backstage, drinking with Cronos. (laugh) That was fucking awesome! Meeting Cronos at Wacken. I was standing behind the stage while they played. Mantas gave me the guitar neck of the guitar he had crushed. They were very cool guys, especially Cronos. He's fucking awesome. So we had a blast in Wacken. Wacken 2000 was one of the best. Those two days we were there were awesome. I met also Dee Snider. He was there. (laugh) It was funny.

Maelstrom: Thanks for all the years of good stuff. Your new album is so cool. It's already got a place on my list of best albums of 2002. So keep up the good work, man.

Abbath: It's Maelstrom Zine?

Maelstrom: Yeah. I don't know if you care to have a copy of the interview.

Abbath: That'd be cool.

Maelstrom: I'll send it to your email address on your website.

Abbath: I don't have email, but you can send it to my father's.

Maelstrom: Really? On the site there's an address,

Abbath: No, not that one. I don't have email. That's a mistake. I never looked into that. I never answered any of that. They say it's packed with mail. I forget about it. I don't want to be on the internet. I am visiting my parents a couple times a week. Demonaz lives in the basement there.

Maelstrom: Is that true?

Abbath: Yeah, in my parent's basement there. Hehehehehe! Yeah.

Maelstrom: He's getting his buisiness started from the basement, like the guy from Apple Computers.

Abbath: He has his office downtown, but he's been living here ever since I moved out from my parents' apartment. He's been living here like six years, with girlfriend. Allright!

Maelstrom: Thanks again.

Abbath: See you soon!



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