With the recent release of Deep calleth upon deep and current European tour of black-metal pioneers Satyricon Metal wani did a post-show interview with the band’s enigmatic drummer, Frost (Kjetil-Vidar Haraldstad) about the new album, it’s intriguing cover, the spirit and soul of the music, and how Satyr‘s health has impacted the band.
Last Friday was the official release of your new album, Deep calleth upon deep, how was the reception so far?
What reception I have heard and seen so far has been absolutely fabulous, I cannot be anything but content and very grateful. I’ve hardly heard anything bad and there have been lots of people that have been really overwhelmed by the album from what I can tell. Many people that have wanted to reach out to tell how good they find the album to be, which is a pretty strong signal. I think that I’ve never experienced such a positive response when we release a new studio album. We are used to there being some controversies, and we expect that. So it could be a little bit worrying if reception is too good. But then again there will always be the people that definitely dislike it. There are many conservative people out there who are not open to anything new or different. If they like a particular album they want everything to sound like that in different versions, and we are simply not about doing that sort of thing. We don’t search for formula’s, we don’t stick to them and we don’t care about expectations. We care how we want Satyricon to sound and you have to be OK about people disliking what you do as well. We definitely don’t have a problem with that. But in general it has to be empathized that the response has been really, really good. We’ve done a few shows now,and got a great response there; it seems like the new songs work very well with the audiences and nothing pleases us more.
The new album is really a very Satyricon album, almost so much so as to feel like it was purposefully made that way?
I think if you give it several more listens, you won’t think that anymore. I think that will loose it’s grip, because there is definitely a very different vibe to the album, and a vibe that Satyricon has never had before. You could say it’s the background color that has changed. But that could do everything to what is in the foreground as well. I guess there is a kind of dynamic in the band that has never been there before. We have entered musical territory that wasn’t really available to us earlier. But sometimes it takes several listens to really understand what you’re dealing with. This is an album that requires more than ten or perhaps even more than twenty listens before you get the whole picture. Then you start to understand textures and what they’re doing, and you start to really catch the vibe of it. I think you will experience it as something very different from anything we’ve done.
After several listen I did start noticing some different vibes, especially In the lyrical content which seam to deal more with being lost and confused and calling out in a way.
At least there’s a deep sense of struggle. There are existential things there no doubt. But I also feel that there is an almost militant kind of authority on the album which far surpasses anything we’ve done hitherto. It is very determined and I also sense a lot of victory. Where we find the most despair and the most anger we also sense perhaps the greatest feeling of victory. It is weird how those emotions occur in parallel. I don’t know why that is. I haven’t asked Satyr about it either, if it comes down to his health situation or anything. But is has come to be, and it is weird trait of this album. Sometimes I’m even slightly puzzled by it myself.
I can imagine that such a big life event as Satyr being diagnosed with his brain tumor not only impacted him, but the rest of the band as well, and the process of writing you were already in.
Yes. We had already got pretty far, and then he had something like a seizure. Then he was diagnosed and feeling really, really bad for a while. It was this dark cloud that was occurring in the sky. Actually it made us want to dedicate ourselves even more to the project; it became even more serious and we were more determined. Here was something that threatens everything we do and comes from outside the world that we can have an influence on ourselves. That actually made it even more important to make this the very very best we could do. Perhaps we don’t even get the chance to do another album. That is something we actually have to face now. That doesn’t mean we think it’s like that, but we have to be realists.
In a way staring death in the face makes you feel more alive?
That could be part of it, but the bottom line is; it makes everything feel even more important. Rather than resigning in the face of a rather grim fate it is better to just stand up and demonstrate what you’re made of. It is more important than ever.
You chose a very interesting cover art by Munch, there was a divided reaction to it, no?
I have talked to quite a few people abut it now, most of them being friends at release, when they speak to us they may emphasize the positives. We have had lots of reactions from journalists and some internet sites as well. There are a few voices that are very negative, and are heard very often because negative people tend to steal the attention. You could read ten very positive remarks and get lost in the one being very negative. I guess I’ve done than a hundred interviews now for this album so far,. and almost every journalist I’ve spoken to has asked several questions about the cover, which says something about your interest in the first place. I can hardly remember any of them being negative, and many have said they really love it and find it to be very interesting and intriguing, as do we ourselves. We have it because it couldn’t represent the content of the album better in a wishful way. Satyr said if we had wanted to give an artist the mission to wishfully express what the album contains, like giving the artist a copy of the album and saying ‘paint what you feel, express it visually.’ It would have looked exactly like this. That is what he experienced when he saw this rather unknown work of Munch this spring, and it just dawned on him; this was our cover right there. That to him was beyond analysis, beyond evaluation. It was perfect, and when I saw it the first time shortly thereafter I thought it was a splendid cover. As I looked at it more I sense the movement and drama in it. It is weird how this just captured the essence o the album, it’s almost like I can feel the soul of it in this picture. That also. to us, makes it a strong wishful companion to the album. Which is exactly what we want when we have a cover made. Whether it is something that already exists or is something we have made to order.
Content wise I understand why you picked it, given the fact it depicts someone staring death in the face.
Oh I think there is so much more than that to it, the style of Munch in itself is brilliant in the first place. He is a fantastic painter and great illustrator with a very, very intriguing style. That one picture had everything that the album is about also. It is a superb thing to actually get to make use of it as a cover. If it had been a very well known painting it would have been all wrong in references. As far as design goes; here it should definitely be about the spirit of it, on that level there could hardly be anything wrong with the composition of it.
A sound I found online quite often is people feeling it looked too sketchy and thus too amateurish, but it is a sketch isn’t it?
Yes it is a drawing, it is carried out with the expressiveness and the soul of something that is way above almost everything you will ever have seen and will ever see as a cover. So if you end up concluding it is too simple, then you simply are not cut out to understand art. That is the objective side of it. You can always debate whether you like something or not, and everyone must be allowed to have their opinion. But if you want to give a statement then you also have to be a bit objective about it. I think you fail miserably if you brush it off as being simple or sketchy. Because it is the rawness and the nakedness of it that give is that kind of direct expression that it has. There is so much of the soul and spirit that lies exactly there. The artist himself said that he would much rather see an unfinished picture that was done with soul, will and determination, rather than something that was done more randomly or without spirit or purpose.
This album seems more focused than the last one, there is still experimentation, but it has more of a common line. Was that something you looked for or sort of happened?
No quite to the contrary, we wanted each and every song to get a character of it’s own, almost like you think of the songs as individuals. You have a song like Dissonance for instance, which is twisted sometimes fanatic, disturbed, intense and musically very percussive. It was important to stick to that expression throughout the entire song. When I performed the drums I had to think about that kind of energy and spirit when I recorded. I always remembered what this song was about, I had to almost imagine the spirit of the song entering me as I was playing. If you consider Midnight Serpent for instance that’s a totally different animal. It depicts something very different and it evokes a different kind of musical landscape. Staying true to the nature of each different song was really what was important to us. We were never afraid that it would end up to be a very messy totality. Rather to the contrary; we feel it is like the album would consist of living pieces that are as different as a hand is from the head or a foot, yet that all belong and constitute the body of it all. The DNA is common there. The spirit of the album is also one that we started to sense when we were working. It was almost like we were summoning that spirit through the work we did and how we did it; how we dedicated ourselves to it and how we always tried to make creativity and inspiration blossom. It kind of sewed it all very neatly together.
I know your last album you and Satyr started to write more in a collaborative jamming fashion, did that carry over to this album, or did you return to the more traditional way of writing you had before?
We did that even more now, it was even more dynamic in a way and we were jamming much more freely. We were going out to camps in the country side and setting up our equipment; working at night if that felt better, having a few glasses of wine to just let the shoulders down a little. We were more intently determined to give this album our full attention and respect throughout the entire process, yet also be a little open or loose when it felt right. sometimes that’s what it takes to really get in the zone creativity wise and to access those deeper recesses. That way you can bring out the very best themes and the best arrangement, and the best songs.
Recently black metal has become vogue, with big fashion labels walk away with the style, how does it feel for you and Satyr being from one of the older black-metal traditions, to see that happen?
I think black metal has musical themes that may appeal to very different people. For some it is the profound darkness of it, for others the kick ass energy that is also there. Black metal is a living organism and I think you can’t confine it too much. If you try to force it to exist in certain frames, and have very rigid rules of who can like it, you will find yourself ending up with a genre that is very pretentious and which will be stagnating, which will bring the best people to stop having anything to do with it. So I think it must be allowed to live, but you must always try to stay in touch with your roots as well.
Do you still listen to a lot of black metal?
I like the good, classic black-metal albums as much as I did when I was a teenager. Those are still usually the black-metal albums that I listen to, because I haven’t heard better black metal albums from more recent bands. It is hard to beat the old classics. I would be happy if it happened, but I think the genre is a little too conservative, people are retrospective. Not a lot of people are daring to try and bring it further. You have to dare to confront the self labeled defenders of the spirit; you have to take the battles. We do it, and we have never been afraid of it. But it seems many people are stuck in their perception that black metal has very rigid rules and it is almost set to sound like old Darkthrone or Mayhem or Bathory, and if it gets too far away from that it it doesn’t belong there. I think the spirit, or the idea; the attitude and feeling is really what should dictate what is proper black-metal. It is not down to how low-fi it is or what the covers look like, or whether you use black and white on your shirts and wear lots of spikes and corpse paint. It doesn’t mean shit. It’s like with blues and punk, it’s about the feeling and the attitude. If it’s there it is true, if it’s not there it doesn’t matter how many inverted crosses there are in logos, and it doesn’t matter how much people in the bands say they’re dedicated to Satanism. Talking doesn’t matter if the music does not express it.
Are there any black metal bands you feel are pushing the boundaries today?
I hope there are, but I really haven’t heard many. I know there are some old bands who still create very good music. I heard a Swiss band called Bölzer because it was recommended to me. I thought it was good. It wasn’t really revolutionary; I was a bit dissatisfied to find it a little conventional, more so than I was given the impression of, but I like the band. I can definitely appreciate what they do musically. I think Mayhem is still making good music, but you have to go back to Ordo ad chao to find something excellent. They dared to do something very unconventional, especially production wise and it worked. The previous album is very good as well, but it sounds a little less inspired, like they have resigned a little and are sticking to their guns. Because I know they are capable of more radical shit. But the Ordo Ad Chao album is a recent album I have very great respect from. And there will be a new Thorns album which I know is going to be great as well. So things happen, but these are all old bands still.
In you live set there are more and somewhat longer spaces, do these have to do with satyr’s health?
No we started to bring that into our shows before his health issues came up, and found that it works very well. In our previous tour we divided the show into sections. It was a little inspired by what they do in theaters actually. When we toured the live at the opera album it was a close idea to think about the dynamics and the dramatics of theater. Not that we wanted to be theatrical, but to bring in something that could add to this grand and majestic feeling on the album, and everything we were doing in connection with it. We felt it actually lifted the show a little to have these small intermission. We could also keep the attention and the presence of the audience much more doing that, because I know that is why do it at theaters. They keep the audience interested and present. Since that worked very well we have decided to carry it with us. Not in exactly the same way as in the previous round, but to divide the show into sections, it works. It works in the band, it works with the crowd and it also gives us in the band the chance to meet outside of the stage during the show to play ball a little. If there is something with the guitar sound, or with the stage presence we can address it before the show is over.