Photos: Captain’s Archive
First off, thanks for taking the time to let me pick your brains a bit. That being said, let’s cut to the chase and get to it. The first time you heard a true, 100% Black Metal album, what was that feeling like? What was it about the sound that drew you in and plunged a dark needle into your soul? And more importantly, what album was it that really hooked you?
Ravn: As long as I can remember, I had a “soft spot” for music of a dark character. When I grew up, I remember hearing Slayer for the first time, and I thought I had found the holy grail of extreme music. I then found Bathory and Hellhammer/CF, but the first meeting I had with the term “Black Metal” was in the early 90’s when I heard Burzum for the first time. I knew then and there that this was the style that I had been searching for and had envisioned in my mind. It was the “whole package” that sold it to me, but the real hook I have found out in retrospective was that I felt that other people also had this need and urge to make utterly extreme and dark music. They were, on top of that, Norwegians as well, so it was an instant feeling of honor and pride that it had been here all the time calling for us, and several people had picked up on it and made outstanding bands and music.
While we’re warming up here on questions, and before I start in with pseudo-journalist, thought-provoking content, what albums would you consider to be the truest to the sound of “Black Metal”? In addition to those, are there any albums in particular that you feel are overlooked in terms of their importance to the genre’s evolution over the last twenty or so years?
This is actually a question with no correct answer, as I believe the sound of Black Metal music must change to benefit each individual song, but I, of course, am very found of several of the old Norwegian classic “must have” Black Metal releases. Whether one is “more true” or not is irrelevant to me as long as the sound is “true” to the song. But the most overlooked album I think is Thorns’ album. That album is outstanding and has all the elements I enjoy on a good Black Metal album. Last but not least I think the word “true” has been overused and also misused in the Black Metal terms.
Black Metal, in the scope of its existence, has undergone a few changes over the years. From the start of the new century, there was a huge spike in the more theatrical, synth-driven direction, a fad that almost seemed to embrace the more over the top rock-star image, music videos and live shows. While I’m not going to mention any one band in particular, it was everywhere. But it seemed to kind of reach an apex, and the more traditional, raw sound of Black Metal came back into style. From your perspective, a man that has made his living off this music, was there a reason why Black Metal seemed to mutate back into its more stripped-down, original sound as opposed the more grand, popular style that dominated the early 2000’s?
I founded 1349 because of my dislike for this aforementioned direction, so you can say that had it not been for this development, I would probably still have just been a fan of Black Metal. But I felt strongly that the focus had shifted and the core needed to be strengthened again, so instead of sitting at the pub complaining about it, I took action and was fortunate to find excellent musicians that shared my vision, and 1349 was formed. Our purpose was clear: to create raw and brutal Black Metal stripped of pompous synths, and to honor and maintain Norwegian Black Metal the way we wanted it to sound.
With this in mind, I stopped following other bands except the old classic ones, and focused only on making our own Black Metal. I did this for many years, and it’s not until recent years I started paying a little attention again, but I don’t feel I missed out on much.
So, the reason for the switch back to the more stripped down and raw Black Metal sound I can’t tell for sure, but, I can only hope we had an influence on it.
The difference in regional style and atmosphere has really started to flare up within the Black Metal Scene, while before it had a constant focus on the Scandinavian scene. I mean, really, Black Metal could never have come from any other place then Norway. But over the last few years, a number of other cities and regions have started journeying down different paths and exploring just how deep this sound can get – a journey that plays off what Black Metal has always been, but with their own individual influences and outlook added in to the music. For example, the Montreal scene in Canada and the Cascadian scene on the West Coast. How important do you feel that a region, or the environment one grows up around, influences a Black Metal musician?
I would say Black Metal comes from many regions, but it is the Norwegian one that became (in)famous and outstaged the rest. It also remains pretty strong today, and it makes it very hard for other regions to be put in this category, as people have a predetermined idea as to what Black Metal is. And, of course, the region has a lot to say about the music, as it has on culture in general. The area you grow up, I believe, has a much more profound effect on a person than most people are aware. And if you are aware of this, you can control it and use it to your advantage in a creative way and that is a key element to being an artist in general. To sum it up: yes, it is very important in my opinion.
With that in mind, there has been also been the debate within the metal scene about just how one can goes about properly exploring the sonic themes contained within Black Metal. Some are a little, shall we say, strict traditionalists when it comes to breaking off the path, while others are more open to the idea of seeing what sounds they can produce. From your perspective, how much room is there for people to explore when it comes to the sound of Black Metal? Is it a style that should have it boundaries pushed, or should it stay closer to the original intention and more pure in its sound?
In relation to that last question, are in there any bands in particular right now that have caused you guys to raise an eyebrow, or that you consider to be doing something really out there and special?
I see Black Metal as a scene with no boundaries, and where chaos should find nourishment and prosper. The variation in music and sound should therefore result in an endless range of predicaments and not be something for a conformist. That being said, I realize that the human mind sees repetition, and the primal instinct in us is to seek safety in the known, so it is a challenge to make music with this in mind; but, that is also why I still do it, because there are endless options and possibilities. On top of that, when you work against the herd the artistic reward is so much greater if you succeed.
When it comes to bands in the present that do this, you, of course, have the masters of this who are Dødheimsgard (DHG), but I also find a band like The Ruins of Beverast or Lord Mantis, to mention a couple, to have something I find interesting about them.
While this might seem to be a rather straightforward question (and I’m hoping that your answer might be a little more nuanced), what is Black Metal to you as a person? What role does it play outside of the band and music?
I treat Black Metal as an art form when it comes to the band and our music, but it is also proven to transform very well into more meditative and philosophical directions also which, of course, in the end comes back to the creative process. So in general it is a circle, and the band never stops so the music or the creative force is also pretty omnipresent. The life outside is in many ways strongly connected to the band at all times in one way or another, since my creative engine seldom shuts down, it just transforms into various directions and areas.
Some time back, you guys did an interview with Invisible Oranges where Ravn stated that “1349 is not a band that consists of friends. It is four individuals that come together because there is a will to create something, and there is a magic happening in between us when we come together.” I thought this was a rather insightful and open comment to make about your band. Music – well, playing music at a professional level – consists of two things: the art and the business. How have you guys come to terms with four different personalities, each with their own quirks and traits, to last this long without the ever-constant rotation of session members and people quitting left and right? What’s the glue that keeps you guys together and producing music?
Well, I still think that statement holds, but I will nuance it a bit and say that it is not a friendship that drives us, it is a common will to create, and by ruling out the obvious personal feelings you will become more uncompromising in your art. We also feel a uniting force that is much stronger than the four of us individually, and we call this the band’s spirit. This has proven many times during the years to have a will of its own, and regardless of our attempts to plan and control it, it has a way of obstructing things if it doesn’t go the right way. Something we, of course, see in retrospect, so over the years we have learned to lean into this force and ride with it subconsciously to create the best possible art in our present state of minds.
When it comes to touring – the long months of not being at home, sleeping in a van and dealing with all the other bullshit that comes with it – how do you guys keep what little sanity you have intact? While we’d all like to think that you’re constantly in the process of summoning demons and engaging in heathen rituals, the truth is that you’re all human and need to unwind in order to keep yourself together. What is the typical day off or down time like for 1349 while on tour?
Well, you have to balance things or you end up on a ledge with nowhere to go. But days off are not something we like on tours, as that is money out the window, and people get sloppy if they have a day off, so t’s better to keep everybody on the edge while on tour. But in general, I compare it with warfare. You relax when you can, you eat when you can; then you are in the best possible shape to perform your best when the time comes. When off tour, it is pretty much the same rules, but focuses more on maintaining strength, both physical and mental, and, of course, as a bonus you get endless lines of emails, interviews and decisions that have to be made and new projects to be planned. Basically, the war never stops.
You guys are currently embarking on a tour with Tombs and Full of Hell, which is a pretty fucking pissed off line up. How familiar with the two bands were you guys before joining forces with them? And how impressed have you guys been with Full of Hell? Young upstarts all the way. I had the chance to see them a few months ago and love them.
I heard about both bands before, and Full of Hell I heard about a year ago and I instantly liked them, and agreed to have them as candidates for touring partners. I am also very happy with how this lineup turned out, and I am really looking forward to see how the crowd reacts to it. It is three bands that all crush in their own way, so the right crowd should be pretty beat up after a night of this. I also look forward to see both bands in their live environment, as I have not had this pleasure before. And of course to see all of our faithful fans again, and hopefully gain some new ones also.
See you all on tour!