Interview: SatyriconWritten by Kenny Leys
On the first gloomy day of this year’s Graspop Metal Meeting, we at RMP had the opportunity to have a chat with one of the founding fathers of the Norwegian black metal scene, Kjetil-Vidar Haraldstad, better known as Frost, drummer for Satyricon. We had a very interesting talk with him about the 20th anniversary of “Nemesis Divina”, the atmospheric qualities of their music and the notorious black monster drum kit.
- First of all, welcome to Belgium! This will be the third time you’ll perform at Graspop. Are you excited to play here again?
Yes, we are! This festival is becoming larger and larger year by year and it seems that our performances here look a little better by each time we play here as well. And we have a rather special occasion for being here this time because it’s “Nemesis Divina’s” 20th anniversary and this is the first of those shows that we do out in continental Europe so of course we’re excited about the reaction and how it’s going to feel to perform the entire album with the audience here. It’s something totally different for us and for our fans as well, I suppose.
- As you already said this year marks the 20th anniversary of “Nemesis Divina”. There’s been a reissue of the album and a lot of new merch. Are there any more plans to celebrate this milestone?
Well, we do these shows. We feel that that is a pretty big thing to do but most important for us is basically just put the album back into the focus so that’s why we are rereleasing it and we’re having this new edition that looks a little more timeless and classy, you know. We kind of wiped off some dust and made it shine just a little more but it’s still much like the original because the original is what it’s all about, you know. It’s about what it represents for the band and for our fans and what it symbolises. That really holds a particular value and significance.
- Lots of fans claim that your first albums were mainly straightforward, blastbeat-driven music wise whereas your latest studio release, “Satyricon”, shows us a softer side. Was this a coincidence or was it really something you aimed for?
I find it very hard to relate to that kind of descriptions. When “Nemesis Divina” was released, it was formidably more powerful than its predecessors; it was way more intense and much more furious. And also, we really needed to increase our skills to master the material we made for the album so like energy wise and intensity wise that was really a step up the ladder, no doubt. I feel that the Satyricon of today has a much richer musical pallet which comes from the fact that we have evolved the material for so many years and the entire band is based on a genuine passion for music and the dedication to it. We really want to be present with whatever we do and to observe and to learn and to get better. As a natural result you will continually develop and you will seek new territory so that’s how it is to be creative, I guess. I find that there’s a much deeper and scarier darkness in the Satyricon of today than there was in Satyricon twenty years ago, let alone even beyond that. I think that we perhaps didn’t have the ability to express ourselves so profoundly; that we have really needed to work longer with music in order to get that capacity and ability. Also about the ‘softer’, I think that at least there are lighter parts and more low key parts and the band is much more dynamic which means that we do music that is less happening and not necessarily very dark or grim or hard or anything but on the other hand we may move to themes that are darker and scarier than anything we did in the early days. You know, there’s so much more contrast. The way I feel is that if you do lighter music as well – and I don’t think ‘light’ as in ‘commercial’ or anything like bands that have this old ratio between hard verses and very light choruses, we don’t do that sort of thing. But we do more mellow parts and sometimes we musically want to go a certain place in order to make the next part really explode in grimness and darkness or whatever. It’s all about expressing atmosphere and emotions which is what this whole musical genre is about. And we feel that if you are doing fast, intense, hard, raw music all the time, that that’s pretty much like driving your car at 200 km/h for a very long time and after a while it doesn’t really feel fast anymore but if you bring down the speed to 40 km/h and then bring it up to 160, then it suddenly feels very very fast. You know, that are the kind of things we’re after and to understand those mechanisms and to apply them in your own music; it’s more about that, it’s not about getting softer or anything. It is really about working with music and finding how to express what you have in you and also to make something that you’d like to hear yourself. That is the Satyricon project.
- Was this idea also the first step to perform with a live choir as in your album “Live At The Opera”?
When we did that it was very much in line with the kind of projects that Satyricon likes to do. We felt that Satyricon could sound very grand and epic and majestic with a choir because we have those qualities in our music. We haven’t it perhaps with that emphasis. We realised in early 2012 when we were invited to perform a “To The Mountains” with the opera choir at this closed event and it sounded so amazing. We weren’t expecting it to be that great or that it would be such a powerful combination. So after that experience we decided that we should put up an entire show and it turned out the opera choir was very much into that idea as well so from there we really took that idea and made a reality out of it. It truly made us learn that it was indeed a very potent combination and something that was also very motivating and a strong experience. It was something that we have brought with us. If we’re going to do more of that kind of thing, I don’t know but we definitely learned something out of it and we found a quality in the music that became clearer to ourselves through that experience.
- You also worked together with Sivert Høyem on the instant classic “Phoenix”. How did you end up collaborating with Sivert?
Well, he’s a very recognised artist in Norway. It just happened one night; Satyr was sitting in front of the television one late afternoon, just having a meal after rehearsal and watching Høyem perform on national television with his solo-project. Satyr realised that his songs sounded very Norwegian black metal-inspired; it’s pretty dark stuff as well, and while he was watching his songs, he thought that it was great stuff and his voice sounded fantastic with this kind of music. So was it that a proper black metal band would actually write a song for him, wouldn’t that be even greater? And Satyricon could be that band so we reached out to Sivert. He’s a really private man and it took some time until we got hold of him but eventually we got in touch with Sivert and he wanted to do such thing because he’s a fan of some of the older Norwegian black metal bands and Satyricon was one of them. As we found out that he was on board, we got to work and we wanted to just do a Satyricon song, in a classical Norwegian black metal way – that was how the song sounded before Sivert’s voice was there anyway and that gave some space for him to really shine. So eventually he started to come to rehearsals after we had laid down the foundation for the song and then we found out where to take it further and it ended up being a fantastic song, I think. You know, we also talk about a kind of potency here. I think there was a strong potency in the collaboration with Satyricon and the opera choir and the same was really the case with us working with Sivert and his very particular way of singing. It’s a different darkness but it’s still very dark.
- Satyricon always existed of you and Satyr. Why is that?
Experience has taught us that we need to be in control of the creative work in the band and then it’s very difficult to allow more members into it. Because if you’re a member of the band that means you have to be granted certain rights and for us that would mean giving away some control and perhaps letting others have an impact on how songs are written and other creative issues. We just can’t have it like that so we need this model with the core being Satyr and me and then extend the band like we do for example with the live band which are also really members of the live ensemble and not some random session musicians. So Satyr and I are in control of all the creative work and that model works for us.
- As a drummer myself, I’m intrigued by the Pearl Super-Pro GLX also known as the ‘Black Monster’. Can you tell our readers a short version of its history and why it’s such an important drum kit in the world of Black Metal?
That old drum kit was originally Hellhamer’s (drummer for Mayhem, red.). He used it on their “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” for instance and it was also borrowed by many other bands for their recordings like Emperor, Darkthrone, I on some early Satyricon rehearsals because we were actually sharing a rehearsal place with Mayhem back in the day, Enslaved used it, and so on. I guess it was like the best drum kit in the extreme metal scene of Norway in that day; it was a very proper kit with huge dimensions and musically the kit also sounded very proper. It had the proper sound for a black metal band: it sounded very thunderous, and it was a high-quality kit so it sounded really great in the studio. As Hellhamer was changing to a different kit in ’93, I decided I really wanted to buy it. I didn’t have that much money but I scraped together what I had and bought it from him. While I had it, I used it on many many recordings since. I even used it on the latest Satyricon album! It’s very worn-out now but it still sounds great and there’s something musical about the tone and you still hear it’s really a fantastic kit. So it’s ready for retirement now but it has done more than its share of duty, I guess.
- You’re also the drummer of 1349. In what way is it different to play with Satyricon or 1349?
They are two different worlds; I operate in different ways in those bands. I’m perhaps doing more creative work in 1349. In Satyricon, I’m not really part of the song writing process because we have Satyr doing that so it feels very unnecessary really. But I guess it’s a different model of teamwork in 1349 and also 1349 is very much about full-blown intensity and the grinding teeth and constant volcanic eruptions. It’s really a musical chaos that I really like a lot. But that’s how that band is and I like to have that. Satyricon on the other hand has a very different approach to writing and performing music. We analyse and evaluate it all the time and we try to have a very high level of consciousness and try to challenge ourselves all the time to get a little better, go a little further and learn something new and that’s great. I started out as a musician that was self-taught and could hardly even play the drums, you know. I knew that that was the instrument for me but I spent many years even just learning the basics. So to have an arena for that, has proven very helpful and I also liked the music of the band a lot. I liked that challenge also – the musical challenge that is, and the evolution that takes place in the band. I really liked to be part of that so if you look away from just liking the music, I think the processes are ones that I really like. The 1349 process for what that is and Satyricon’s way of working for what that is.
- One last question: will Sivert be joining you tomorrow?
We would love to but he has his own band and I think he’s working on an album. We actually brought him with us on the show we did last weekend in Sweden. He performed “Phoenix” with us then because it was possible. But we couldn’t bring him here because he was busy working on his own projects. We would love to have him there every day and we know he likes to perform with us so it’s not about that but it couldn’t be done unfortunately.