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INTERVIEWSAbbath speaks about the Immortal split for the first and last time!
Interview with Abbath from "Scream" magazine (2003)
Friday 18th of July, the storm raged upon Blashyrkh again, unfortunately in a way most people would have avoided if possible: after many years as one of the world's leading black metal bands, Immortal detonated the bomb, stating that they had broke up the band immediately. Webpages worldwide reacted with disbelief and mourning messages left by horrified fans, and the press demanded some answers. However, the band refused to speak to anyone about the split, and addressed its short, official statement as the only necessary information as such.
During the last weekend of August, Abbath agrees to do one final interview, in order to satisfy people's need for more background information. The truth might be more unspectacular than expected, but it's nevertheless intense and honest enough to make you realize how important Abbath and Immortal have been during the last 13 years...
Was the breakup spontaneous, or was it planned over a longer time span?
"No, it was not planned," says Abbath sipping on a few beers in his hometown of Bergen. We're warming up for tonight's festival show with a.o. Gorgoroth and Satyricon, and Abbath has agreed to shed some lights upon the breakup of the mighty Immortal: "Planning was actually not something we did a lot of in Immortal, but this is something that has been lurking in my subconsciousness for quite some time. I'm a spontaneous guy, and when something comes out, then it's for real. The guys in the band reacted quite positive to what I had to say," tells Abbath before he takes a little break.
"We had just played the Roskilde festival, and we were on our way to the Quart festival in Norway. Suddenly I just told the guys that I didn't want to go on any longer. The response I got from Horgh and Saroth was positive, so I guess they had been thinking about it for a while as well. We haven't discussed this a whole lot, but I have a feeling that they somehow expected this to happen. I guess this was the moment for one of two possibilities: either I had a plan for something new concerning the band, or that the band should be laid to rest."
Abbath is taking his time and is talking slowly, and while Iron Maiden's "Powerslave" provides the right atmosphere, he admits that he hasn't been able to write new Immortal music for a long time.
"I have been doing this band for thirteen years, and a lot of things have happened. But I have to move on, and finally I'm able to do that, without having to think about Immortal. I'm not planning to retire as a musician, quite the contrary - the music I'm making now is totally me and what I stand for," says Abbath enthusiastically, clearly enjoying the fact that he's able to make music again. "But I won't use my old surroundings - I'm a little alone in the dark right now, but that's a challenge as well, and time will tell what musicians I'll use, what producer and so on."
A question many people are asking, is why you chose to break up the band instantly; why not admit the need for a break, and then continue after a few years?
"Because there has never been a need for a break in this band! We're either doing it, or we're not! I have never considered doing a side project in addition to Immortal - I want to dedicate myself one hundred percent to what I'm doing, and I don't understand why people have such a need for side projects. To me, that's just a sign that they're not totally committed to what they're doing as a musician. I'm inspired by the music I listen to at home, and I have a quite diverse taste for music. Be it Motörhead or Iron Maiden - it's in me all the time, and the music I compose is a reflection of this. So why should I take a break from something and do something totally different on the side of that?"
Fair enough, but I still don't understand why you have broken up the band. Last year, you left Wacken in ruins with your performance, this year you wrecked Roskilde, Quart and Metal Mania, and you had a Norwegian tour coming up. So why the breakup now?
"Because I don't want to continue the band based upon the wrong reasons! If the glow is not there, it's impossible to continue - I won't give the audience a false product! And we're not breaking up because of money, cause money has never been a reason to do this anyway!"
So how was it to play the summer festivals this year?
"Well, we had already played Roskilde, and that was cool. We were on our way to the Quart festival when it happened, and maybe I could have said something earlier, but it didn't feel right until then!"
Have you got negative feedback from people after the breakup?
"No, I haven't, actually. Even the record company hasn't bothered us, hargh! Of course people in my neighborhood are asking questions, but that's cool. I don't have Internet at home, so I haven't paid any attention to message boards or stuff like that, but I think people understand that this is something natural, and that there has been no need to make any fuzz about it. After all, we were just Immortal, not Iron Maiden or Slayer! If those bands had called it a day, I could have understood that people had reacted."
But Immortal was important as well - the band was an essential connector between extreme and traditional metal!
"I guess we were important in the underground, and we quit on our peak of it. Maybe we could have gone a lot further, but we didn't see any point in continuing."
And for the record - there are no bad blood between the band members?
"Absolutely not!," Answers Abbath rapidly, before smiling his characteristically smile. And Saroth doesn't feel left out in the cold?
"No way! Saroth is his own master, and he has always shown respect and understanding for what the band was all about. When he joined, he really got his baptized in fire, with two months of touring straight. We went out with Hypocrisy for a month, and then to the States with Manowar. It was never any stress with him, he was really relaxed and cool. I think he enjoyed being a member of the band, and we certainly enjoyed having him with us. I'd like to think that he is happy for the time he got to spend within the band, and looking back, it's clear to me that he should have joined us a lot earlier. He's studying in Sweden now, and I wish him all possible success with his business."
The reason I'm asking, is because the official statement from the band, explaining the breakup, was signed "Abbath, Demonaz, Horgh". Why not Saroth, or Iscariah, for that sake?
"Because me and Demonaz started this band! Then Horgh joined and helped develop the band, so I think it's fair to say that me, Demonaz and Horgh were the creative force of the band. Both Saroth and Iscariah were important team players though."
Abbath explains that it hasn't been easy for any band member to keep up with him and Horgh, due to their special friendship and attitude towards Immortal. Being a member of Immortal has always been a struggle, but Saroth managed to keep up. Iscariah, who played on "Damned In Black" and "Sons Of Northern Darkness", didn't:
"Saroth found his spot in the band really quickly, and he was calm and enjoying it. Iscariah was always searching for more, and he wanted to be creative in a way that didn't fit within the boundaries of Immortal. He's constantly looking for something, and I'm sure that he one day will find that. He's a great player, and he has a good name in the industry, so that shouldn't be a problem at all," says Abbath, assuring me that he has a good relationship with all the ex-members of the band.
If you look back on thirteen years, seven studio albums and several tours - do you feel that you have accomplished what you wanted with Immortal?
"Yes and no. I have gained a lot of experience, and that is success in itself. But I feel that we have been facing obstacles all the way, always thinking what our next move should be. We have not become rock stars or millionaires, but we managed to find our own thing, both as humans and musicians. Myself, I have gained a balance with myself. I realize that life consists of ordeals and problems, but I have managed to create a life I can function in, due to the fact that I followed my own willpower. Immortal has been a heavy burden several times, and I didn't plan for Immortal not being a part of my future, but that's what happened. I have reached a crossroad, and the unthinkable happened: I realized that Immortal had to be put to rest, in order for me to start over."
"But hey - Lemmy was 30 when he founded Motörhead, so maybe I'm not so old and burnt out anyway!", Laughs Abbath, and even though he realizes that fans might not be too happy because of this decision, he's confident that this was the only right thing to do:
"The next chapter won't be the same as Immortal, but no matter what I'll be doing, it will be a change for the better for myself. I haven't managed to compose music for quite a while, but now I already have new material ready, and that's a good feeling."
Looking back to the time before the release of "Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism" and the last show in front of 20.000 in Spain - how would you describe the development of the band?
"Immortal has never been an overnight sensation, but we managed to build something few thought was possible with this kind of music. We showed the world that we had something! As I said, there have been a lot of obstacles, and it has been a constant state of learning."
Sure, but you have had a lot of success as well. Was that expected?
"When Demonaz and myself founded the band, we we're thinking really big! I remember we were standing by the ruins of Lysekloster, and we had put on corpse paint. We had been drinking whisky and watching Venom videos, and we were going for large scale success! And in many ways, the band has been a success, 'cause we have experienced a lot. We love to play live, and Immortal was a live band, for sure. We have been our own mentors, and we followed our own thing from day one, we didn't follow any trends. So yeah, I guess we were expecting success from day one, but success based upon two young lads who had agreed to make some fucking great stuff, inspired by the music we loved ourselves. It was an exciting time, and even though it's fantastic to perform in front of 20.000 Spanians, that's still something completely different compared to the time me and Demonaz had in the early days, when no one knew who we were."
Looking back - is it annoying that you're still broke, while other people in the business made big money on Immortal?
"It's like that for almost every band out there! The business people are always making more money that the band itself. But without the industry, we wouldn't have gained anything - you need the business side of things. Still, we're not left with the impression that we got screwed by either Osmose Productions or Nuclear Blast," says Abbath, before he jokingly adds, "or maybe we got screwed, it's just that we're too stupid to realize it, hargh! Money has come and gone, but this has never been a focus of mine. I have never let money and business aspects interfere with the music, but as we grew bigger as a band, these things became an obstacle as well. If the glow within the band had been bigger, I guess we could have dealt with that as well, but it became too much eventually. Too much discussion and negotiations with the management, and I guess this was the final drop that made me realize that it was about time to put the band to rest."
All that is past now. What will happen in the future?
"If my health stays all right, I'll continue doing what I have been doing, but with some new impulses. The music will be one hundred percent Abbath, but I have no idea when a complete album can be released. It will take some time, and I won't stress one second with it - time is not a question here. At the moment, it's important for me to practice some physical training, and being active. I work out a lot, and I have cut down on the drinking. Still, I don't think there's any point in quitting drinking totally right now, that would just make me more stressed," Abbath confirms honestly. He also treasures the fact that he has good friends: "It's good to be close to people I feel comfortable with. I'm a lone wolf, but even wolves need company, hargh!"
"Not playing live for several months is not something I'm looking forward to, cause I love to perform live, but I won't do it again until it feels right. If it's in front of 30 people or 30.000 - I don't care, but I have to be able to deliver a full package! The music I'm composing right now is mostly for myself, but I would be an idiot if I had said it was only for myself. Even Quorthon and Fenriz need to publish their music, hargh! It's not enough to listen to it alone and private - if you as a musician feel that you have something good, it should be brought to the people as well!"
Abbath hopes that Immortal fans won't be spending too much time thinking about the past, but rather be looking forward to future projects from himself and Horgh. The latter has already released the debut of Grimfist, and Abbath's project is really something to look forward to, rest assured!
But the big question remains, Abbath - is Immortal dead and buried forever?
"Well, one should never say never... But we hope that the band will live its own life through the albums and the songs, and the legacy of Immortal will still live on through our future projects."
Sure, but to a lot of people worldwide, the split was a tremendous chock. Is it totally out of the question to see you live at Wacken next year, if the figures on the check are correct?
"As I already said, it's not the money, and you know that! But if such a day will come, of course we want our share of it. But it can also take many years before we eventually does it, and then maybe the money side of it is long gone. But that's fine - somewhere in the future we might do something like that, but it will definitely not be in 2004!"
My only remaining question is why my ears didn't embrace Immortal earlier. I've listened to their music since the debut, but it wasn't until At The Heart Of Winter I realized what a treasure Immortal truly is. But that's another eternal truth: the truly great ones are discovered only when it's too late... THE MIGHT LIVES ON!!!
Author: Håkon Grav (© 2003 "Scream" Magazine, Norway)
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