By David E. Gehlke
Norwegian black metal pioneers DARKTHRONE have balked at the idea of progression since the late 1990s. Whereas their (un)holy triumvirate of "A Blaze In The Northern Sky", "Under A Funeral Moon" and "Transilvanian Hunger" became foundational black metal albums upon their release earlier in the decade, the duo of Fenriz (real name: Gylve Fenris Nagell, drums, vocals) and Nocturno Culto (real name: Ted Arvid Skjellum, guitars, bass, vocals) has purposely refrained from embracing modern production when black metal became more polished and commercial. Instead, DARKTHRONE retreated to their vast classic metal, hardcore and punk record collections and emerged as an even more raw and potent pair while doing the exact opposite of their Norwegian black metal brethren.
The band recently released their 19th studio album, "Astral Fortress". Like its "Old Star" and "Eternal Hails…" predecessors, "Astral Fortress" revels in vintage metal riffs that crash up against punk and thrash, upholding the idea they've permanently left behind black metal. And yet some people (namely promoters) still can't let go of DARKTHRONE's corpse-painted past: Fenriz and Nocturno Culto have yielded numerous high-paying offers over the years to play live, something they haven't done since 1996. As Nocturno Culto tells BLABBERMOUTH.NET, that's not going to happen, and neither is an abandonment of their current "regressive" approach, which seems to be working quite well.
Blabbermouth: How often are you in Fenriz in touch? Is it a regular thing? Or only when you're getting ready for a new album?
Nocturno Culto: "Basically, the last four or five years, we've been almost in daily touch. We don't talk much, but if it's something important, we call each other. We text each other throughout the day about music and stuff happening around us. Of course, we text about albums. I'm more in touch with Fenriz now than for quite a while. The thing is, we don't meet up that much. It's probably for the best. It's also probably one of the reasons we've stuck together for so long. We don't use our time playing live. We don't feel at home in show business, but if we were a touring band, we'd probably split up years ago. [Laughs] It's not that we don't like each other, but you know how it is. We have a very good relationship. I live far away from him, so the distance ensures we don't meet so much."
Blabbermouth: It's an interesting concept: Not playing shows has prolonged DARKTHRONE's career.
Nocturno Culto: "I think so! In the early years of DARKTHRONE, we always rehearsed. People asked us, 'Come to this party.' We said, 'No, we want to rehearse.' That period from when we started until around 'A Blaze [In The Northern Sky]', those were intense years. We cemented our relationship through music. That's still the case today. We don't run into many problems and we never did on how we interpret music and things like that. We just play together. I have to point out that we're playing together. If you see the physical copy of our new album on the back cover, it says, 'No metronome since 1987.' It explains to people who don't know [about DARKTHRONE] that it's a big part of our sound to breathe the music. Some people say it's unprofessional, but I say fuck them. It's not about that. It's about musicians playing together and it's been the case forever. We record the drums and all the guitars live, so the albums are the closest to live you'll hear from DARKTHRONE."
Blabbermouth: And that's the beauty of DARKTHRONE. It's just the two of you doing it.
Nocturno Culto: "We appreciate that people understand this. We like to say, 'Don't judge our albums now. Do it in 50 years.' It's kind of a joke. It means we don't play contemporary music."
Blabbermouth: The early '90s could have been the only time you were contemporary. Once you got to "Ravishing Grimness" in 1999, you became behind the times.
Nocturno Culto: "We always thought very regressive. As time passes by, DARKTHRONE has become its own creature. It's very difficult for Fenriz and I to 'control' that creature. It's living its own life. Sometimes we discuss things that we might do differently. The last example is after 'The Underground Resistance', we chatted about the way to go. We both felt that we peaked on 'The Underground Resistance'. We were building up to that album somehow. We felt we peaked in that direction. Every album, as I like to say, is a kind of postcard from us describing our lives. [Laughs] After that album, we talked and said, 'We can't do this style any better.' We decided to go for a bit more understandable and streamlined arrangements of the songs. Not forcing it, but before we started to make 'Arctic Thunder', we talked about it and it was refreshing for us to go into that album with that in our mind. I think we stayed on that path pretty much. 'Old Star' is an example; it's a bit more understandable. Anyway, for us, time passes by. We released this album. We have new albums and things are happening."
Blabbermouth: Does this mean you and Fenriz had a plan for 'Astral Fortress'?
Nocturno Culto: "What I told you is an example of the few times in the last 35 years where we discussed things like that. We don't really have a plan. Obviously, we make our own songs, but when we are in the studio, it all comes down to how we interact. Getting new ideas in the studio is also a common thing. We've been exchanging riffs, especially with 'Eternal Hails…' and 'Astral Fortress'. We were well prepared. It's a good thing."
Blabbermouth: I read a quote from you recently about how you missed rehearsing. Since DARKTHRONE has a unique setup, what do you miss about it?
Nocturno Culto: "It's about being prepared for the recordings. There's something about it. I can't help thinking about how we rehearsed back in the day and how important that was to cement the band and the friendship with Fenriz. When we rehearsed back then, it was like being in the midst of creation. It's a good feeling. Then again, it's been like that since 2005 with 'Cult Is Alive' that we don't know anything before we enter the studio. But we are very efficient in the studio. It's not like we're joking around. We have to have control over the situation and then we can fuck around a bit. Bands using a month in the studio — I think we would go absolutely mental."
Blabbermouth: DARKTHRONE doesn't need [METALLICA / MÖTLEY CRÜE producer] Bob Rock around!
Nocturno Culto: "I have huge respect for METALLICA, but I was thinking about how we've recorded on our own equipment since 2005 up until 'Old Star'. It would be fun to have a band like METALLICA record on their own with our equipment. It would be interesting. Then you will really hear what the band is thinking. When you have fewer resources, you have to get the best out of it. I probably repeat myself, but I think more bands should take more risks when recording because it's interesting. Look back at the '70s. No band sounded the same because the studios were completely different configurations. I'm not trying to bash current times because many great things are happening, but you have to look in the underground. But the underground is really huge, so these are good times.
"When we started, we didn't think of Norway as a thing. It's hilarious to think about it now. After we stopped sending our albums in advance to newspapers, they won't even review our albums here in Norway. It's funny. I think it's a victory for us. We don't need that. We don't need people like that to understand what we're doing. That's good not to rely on those so-called 'important' people trying to throw dice on us. It's just so dumb. I can't relate to that at all, so it's a victory to us for not being so exposed in the newspapers in Norway."
Blabbermouth: Who did "Impeccable Caverns Of Satan" on the new album? It's not only a great song but also a memorable title.
Nocturno Culto: "I can't remember. [Laughs] I think that's Fenriz's song. He's going toward the HELLHAMMER style. The songs are very different. That song sticks out a bit. I think 'The Sea Beneath The Seas Of Sea' is an unusual opening for a DARKTHRONE song. But is it? If you go back to our demo days, I think the 'Eon 2' song has a similar structure and ideas we had on the early demos. We've come full circle. We're going back to the studio in April and have no idea. I started to get an idea of where we're going, so that will be good to do. I know — we release a lot of albums. [Laughs] But we spend all our time making music and albums. We don't waste our time on everything else. DARKTHRONE is going forward all the time. We can't help it; we have lots of ideas."
Blabbermouth: How often do you receive requests to play live?
Nocturno Culto: "There have been a lot. The offers have been fading in the last couple of years. [Promoters] understand now. We have turned down a lot of money. We live modest lives and don't need that kind of attention. We just want to make music."
Blabbermouth: How do you react when people talk about the "mystique" of DARKTHRONE when it turns out you and Fenriz are two regular guys?
Nocturno Culto: "There are two sides to us, but we have managed to stay sane. [Laughs] We are regular dudes. We've been busy with our own things. Yesterday, I talked to a French magazine. I speak for Fenriz: we are feeling more like garden gnomes. [Laughs] We just go along. We come from a place where our attitude is rooted in punk and hardcore scenes. We think everything is kind of stupid. Our former guitarist, Zephyrous [real name: Ivar Engar], although he was the youngest, we looked up to him. He was a very good guy. He didn't waste a single calorie on things he thought were a waste of time. He was very strict about that. He should be a role model for everybody. And he was doing that when he was 16. It's been like that for Fenriz and I. We don't know any other way. We're probably not easy to turn around, but as long as we have a good time, we are happy."