Immortal Throne of Blashyrkh: Russian Tribute to Norwegian Black Metal band Immortal


Surviving Sons of Northern Farceness: Immortal
Interview with Demonaz from "Express Night Out" E'zine (December 2009)

"Blizzard Beasts". "Arctic Swarm". "In My Kingdom Cold". In a perfect world, these songs would be snOwMG 2009 anthems. Alas, the world is less than parfait, and Norwegian Black Metal is reserved for only the grimmest cult of iPods.

This wintery mix of titles is courtesy of the most frostbitten band in all of Norway - hell, in all of metal: Immortal, the band that has launched a thousand Photoshops.

Corpse paint, cod pieces and tight grips on invisible oranges are de rigueur in Black Metal, but Immortal has become foreverized on the Web in thousands of manipulated photos and videos for taking these rigors to impossibly funny levels. The group's scowls and shin guards have been added to every kind of shot, from Santa to Simmons, making Immortal solely a farcical meme in the minds of many.

But in a strange twist, Immortal has survived the assault on its image through the sheer power of its music. Where so many black-metal bands stay forever fixed in kvlt status, Immortal has managed to rise to the top: in 2009 the group appeared on the covers for the English-speaking world's leading extreme-metal mags, "Decibel" and "Terrorizer".

After starting with a standard mix of blast beats and crude grinding on its 1992 debut, "Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism", Immortal grew into a band that created expansive metal epics that regularly stretched to seven and eight minutes without losing the explosiveness that defines heavy music.

By the time "Sons Of Northern Darkness" hit in 2002, the jokes about Immortal were still being made - even among its ardent fans - but the hosannas often drowned out the japes. It was the band's debut for international powerhouse label Nuclear Blast, and the album's eight epics built off the face-melting foundations laid down on "At The Heart Of Winter" (1999) and "Damned In Black" (2000).

Then at the height of its popularity in 2003, Immortal went on hiatus, seemingly forever.

Internal and external pressures became too much for core members Abbath and Demonaz, and the longtime friends - and family by marriage after the former married the latter's sister (since divorced) - decided to step away from Immortal, even as they continued to work together on the Abbath-fronted supergroup I for the 2006 almost traditional heavy-metal album "Between Two Worlds".

But Immortal reformed in 2007 for concerts, and soon after Abbath and Demonaz began writing a new album, 2009's "All Shall Fall". The duo created the songs as they had since 1997: with vocalist and bassist-turned guitarist Abbath writing the music with Demonaz, who also penned the group's apocalyptic, elemental-steeped lyrics, which are set in the fictional world of Blashyrkh. Demonaz started as the band's six-string slayer, but he had to almost give up the guitar completely due to acute tendinitis; now he's limited to playing his instrument in 10- or 15-minute increments, tops, lest his right arm flare up in severe pain, as he doesn't perform live or on record. (He also acts as band manager now).

The bond between these former brothers-in-law remains steadfast, however, and Abbath and Demonaz are still the creative forces behind Immortal, even as the group has steadied its once revolving-door lineup with fixtures Horgh (drums) and Apollyon (bass).

While "All Shall Fall" was again produced by Hypocrisy guitar-singer Peter Tägtgren, the album has a more ethereal quality than the in-your-face "Sons Of Northern Darkness". But what it lacks in immediacy, "All Shall Fall" makes up for with repeated listens, firmly lodging the record among the band's finest moments.

"Express Night Out" spoke to Demonaz about themes in his lyrics, the reasons behind Immortal's hiatus and, yes, the band's history of silly, silly photos.


How is your tendinitis? Can you play any guitar these days?

I play guitar every day, and I make songs. I'm working on my solo project, on Nuclear Blast, that will come the beginning of next year. Yeah, I play guitar every day - I play 10 minutes here and maybe have a break, then maybe play for 15 minutes. I can't do that hard picking for an hour in a row. If I had to rehearse every day with the band, or every second day... I will hurt myself.

I can play the solos and everything with the speed, but after 10 minutes my arm is like, "OK, you have to take a break". It's chronic; I will always have the problem, maybe. But it's got much better the last [few] years... But it's been a long time since this happened, and for me and Abbath, the most important thing is to keep the band together... When I got my problems, instead of taking on a new guitar player, we had Abbath to take over the guitar and we found a new bass player instead so that we could still work together. Because me and Abbath, at that time if we were to separate, none of us could do Immortal, because this is the vision we had together. I can't do this without me and I cannot do this without him.

Abbath was married to your sister, and then they got divorced. Did that situation play any role in Immortal's break?

No, never. There was no problem. They separated as friends... It sounds quite strange, but Abbath and I have never had any serious issues and never had any arguments or problems that would hurt the band in any way. Even I really don't understand why it is like that.

So, why the long break between Immortal albums?

Everything got too much routine, and that band became - everybody expected something. The industrial side of being in a band - where the record label's demanding you to do things and management wants you to go on tour, we felt the spark and the spirit were slowly drifting away a little. Things were not going up, even if you had a really big album like "Sons Of Northern Darkness". And we had a lot of offers, but to just go on tour and tour and tour - there was something missing. I'll be the first one to admit, just before this [hiatus], me and Abbath didn't hang together so much at this time and we were drifting a little apart. I think that was natural because of what happened:

We did the "At The Heart Of Winter", "Damned In Black" and "Sons Of Northern Darkness" without me [playing guitar], and still there were little problems with [other band] members. I think [me and Abbath] were drifting a little apart - if we didn't see that at the time, I can see that now... Everything on the outside looked good for everyone, but internally it started to lose the spirit a little. We never talked about it, and [then] he said, "Maybe we need to take a break to save the band, and we can take it up again when we want to". That was what we decided to do.

We never felt like the band should be out playing Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday just to get bread on the table. Immortal is not a factory, it's not a job for us - it's a band, and a band needs the spirit... [Then] me and Abbath started to write again and we did the [side] project and we wanted to do the I album [during] the break. ...It was a big relief for us. After 13 years, just to let your band go. ... I think that was really great for us, and we could be objective toward the band for the first time in our lives. Immortal has been everything to us since we started it.

I think a lot of other bands should do the same: Don't go out on tour and burn yourself up and destroy your band totally. I think it's better, at least for us. We never let Immortal become our job... It's like Abbath said, "If we have to take other jobs to save the band, that's good". So we did that... in the break.

Did you have just musical jobs, or were they regular day jobs?

We also have day jobs - but they last for a day [laughs]. I worked for an advertising company for one and half years. And Abbath, he worked... construction. He did that for a year or something.

I read that you and Abbath sometimes go hiking to spur creativity.

Sometimes we have to. Two years ago, when we started to write the album, we didn't just want to focus on "All Shall Fall". We were doing jobs in between with Immortal - festival dates and a little touring in Australia and Russia... Before we started on the album, me and Abbath had a trip up to his cabin on the mountains. We were there for some days, walking on these really high mountains. Drinking, listening to Venom, Bathory - it's all about taking back your youth. That is what we wanted to do; go back and do things the old way. The first riffs I wrote for this album were on cassette... just to have the old spirit back.

Because nature plays such an important role in your lyrics, Immortal could be considered one of the first eco-oriented metal bands.

I don't think it's something I would call my own band, but I don't really care what other people call it. What means a lot to us is what the die-hard fans think, the people who have the whole catalog. Whenever they approach you with a question, or whenever they have a criticism you can relate to, that's OK. But all those bloggers and the people who criticize everything [via] the Internet... what they say doesn't matter.

Maybe you're not speaking about being an eco-warrior like Wolves in the Throne Room, but the imagery in your lyrics is very Earth-based and elemental when a lot of Black Metal is concerned with the supernatural.

Of course I support nature. it's the only power that means something; it's the only power that you can relate to - the elements. I can't relate to any religion... you have to believe in what you see, and that's what I do: The things I can relate to in life, and that is what I put in my lyrics. The real atmospheres.

You know Conan the Barbarian? He had a god called Crom, and Crom doesn't care about him, but still he worships him or relates to him. It is the same with me: Nature doesn't care about us, but I still worship it. But it's the dark side of it from which I draw my inspiration.

This time of the year, when it's cold outside and it's dark, you can get in the mood to write music. In the summer, I have to go somewhere else, I have to travel somewhere else to get the inspiration. When the sun is warm and hot, you get lazy and you can't do anything. I can't think about much then. Nature is the foundation of everything I've written... We're not a negative band... and I think the fans know that. Immortal is about the power to the one who listens to it. I always write like Manowar - with a lot of pride, a lot of power, a lot of praise. It's like standing on a hillside and watching the world fall down, and having your fist [in the air] and saying, "Forget about it. Fuck 'em all".

Immortal has never been a political band, but some of your words on "All Shall Fall" feel like they are addressing contemporary situations, such as war. Is this a political album in some way?

Not really. I'm not big influenced by politics or religion. I try not to get too much influence from the world of politics or the TV. But the apocalypse is a thing I've always been influenced by. It's [about] apocalyptic visions as seen from a Nordic perspective - how I wanted it to look, how I want to stand on the mountain and see [the world] fall down and still have my pride. It's a little cliche, but it does it for us.

So, I'm sure you're seen all the Photoshops of Immortal and the Facebook group "Any Picture Can Be Improved by Adding Immortal to It".

Of course, I've seen all these parodies on YouTube and the Internet. We are asked all the time about it, and I think we have pretty high self-irony.

You guys were young when Immortal started, and that's where the silliest imagery and videos come from, but it's a testament to your music that people in the metal community ended up taking Immortal seriously.

What happened is that early in our career when the first album came out, the biggest TV company in Norway invited us to this program, and it was the first meeting we had with the media. We said yes to the TV program if they would make a video, which at time was really expensive to do and we didn't have the money... They said yes to that, and they came and filmed us. But we said they shouldn't film in the daytime; we should film [at night]. "No, we can make it look dark," they said - and we were stupid enough to believe that.

So, we went down to the TV station on the same day as the show to edit [the video], and they said, "We already edited it". We said, "Can we see what you did?" And they said, "No, our chief is not here". They tricked us. When we got on the TV program, they showed us the video - and it looked really ridiculous. It was really funny, but we took it as a really big insult. We said, "What the fuck are you doing, man?" That was the "The Call Of The Wintermoon" video. That was the video people started to make fun about. [See the video below, plus two parodies of the infamous clip.]

Also, the "At The Heart Of Winter" pictures, which came from the record label. In the booklet there was supposed to be two pictures - and all the bad pictures [were there]. After that, there was no stopping it. Everybody was making fun of Immortal: making Christmas cards, or Abbath for President, or whatever. Every time someone says, "Have you seen this photo" and I think so - but I haven't: The Internet is flooded with them. In the very beginning we were really pissed off about it because of TV2, but after that we didn't care so much. We thought, "Everybody makes fun of Kiss, or big artists, or celebrities or whatever". I think if anything, it made us more careful with photographers... and [non-metal] journalists... When the local papers wanted to write about us, we said no to a lot of them because they're only interested in finding some funny stuff about us.

But if you play someone "Sons Of Northern Darkness", and you don't tell that person that this CD is by that band in that "The Call Of The Wintermoon" video, they would be shocked. It's a pretty great record, and it proves your artistry stands apart from your image.

I think you're right: The albums proved what we are - what me and Abbath can create, and what we stand for. I think every album is solid; it represents the time of the band... With "All Shall Fall", we didn't try to create something new; we just made an album like we always did. We sit down and work together; we're writing from the stomach - it works every time.

We didn't want to bring something new into our music; we just wanted to make fucking great tracks, like we always do... We work naturally without any pressure or deadline. This album is solid - it's Immortal. It's an album for the die-hard fans and a celebration for ourselves. We've opened the gate again.

Author: Christopher Porter (© 2009 "Express Night Out", USA)

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