After a successful career as guitarist in Emperor Samoth kept himself busy with Zyklon and Scum. His latest project, The Wretched End, is a cooperation between him and Cosmo (Mindgrinder). This resulted in Ominous, an album full of thrash metal oriented material. In this interview with Home Nucleonics he talks about the origins of The Wretched End, his long career as a musician and he gives some valuable insights on the development of black metal past and present.
Thank you for doing this interview. Before we discuss the new album can you tell us about the origins of The Wretched End and what you want to achieve with your latest project?
I think the time had come to start something new. Zyklon had kind of stagnated a bit and ended up taking a break. This had to do also with other things in my life at that point of time. I had started writing some material that could possibly fit Zyklon, but very well something else too, and I was missing a bit of the fun of making music and being creative. That really was the main drive to start something new. In 2008 my friend Cosmo and I formed what became The Wretched End. Our goal when starting this project was to do it fully on our own premise and to make sure we enjoyed the process of working with music on a creative level.
Ominous is the result of you working together with Cosmo, with whom you worked previously in Scum and Zyklon. How did the writing process and the recording process go?
Yeah, that’s right. It was altogether a very good process I think. Cosmo and I work well together and we had a lot of recording and rehearsals sessions either in his little studio, or in front of the fireplace over the winter 2008-2009. During this time we perfected the material and come fall 2009 we hit the studio with drummer Nils Fjellström and recorded the drums. He came in as a hired gun and really nailed the job to perfection I think. The rest of the recording session was done in several sessions towards the end of 2009 and beginning of 2010. We recorded some stuff at Cosmo’s studio, but for the most part it was recorded, mixed and produced at Strand Studio together with engineer Marius Strand, who did a great job.
How did you approach the writing and creative process which led to Ominous? Was it any different in comparison to your previous projects/bands like Scum, Zyklon and Emperor?
Well, obviously working with different people often gives a slightly different working situation or different structure or motivation. I feel at least comparing it to Zyklon towards the end, we had a lot more energy and motivation writing for The Wretched End. But the basis of how the music was made was not so different from any other bands I worked with. Very often we work individually on ideas and get together to work on arrangements and so on.
What I personally like about the album is that you managed to use all kinds of familiar ingredients like the use of melody and leads from (Bay Area) thrash with some nice and chunky riff work derived from death metal, but you managed to give it an original twist. Was this something you set out to do? How important is it for you to be original as a musician?
The blueprint for this project was a more death thrash sound. I definitely wanted to bring in more thrash elements, and keep it a bit more groove oriented compared to Zyklon. As you say, there are elements in the album you might recognize from classic bands, and to me that’s fine. We didn’t set out to totally reinvent the steel, but obviously not to copy other artists either. I think the album has familiar ingredients, as you say, but with a personal touch to it.
Another thing that surprised me is that tracks like Of Man And Wolves, Numbered Days, With Ravenous Hunger and Zoo Human Syndrome have a certain Zyklon vibe over them, because of their mid tempo nature, industrial overtones and your signature guitar riffs, albeit thrashier in nature. Was this done on purpose? Were some of these song ideas originally intended for your former band?
No, none of these songs were intended for Zyklon, but I’m sure some of them probably could have worked with Zyklon in some way as well. I actually feel Last Judgement is maybe the song that is closest to Zyklon on the album. This is the first song we wrote, and a song I actually was a bit unsure about including on the album.
Due to the different nature of many of the songs Ominous comes across as a collection of ideas put together on a single disc, instead of a cohesive album. Has it something to do with the fact that most of the songs were written over a long period of time or are you still searching for the definitive sound for The Wretched End? Is it something you recognize?
I really don’t agree that Ominous comes across as just as a collection of ideas put together on a single disc. You are right that there are some variations on the song material, where some songs lean more towards death metal, and others more toward pure thrash, and some of the songs even have a bit of a black metal influence as well. However, there’s definitely things that tie it all together and I think it works. We didn’t want to go straightforward, but wanted to mix in our musical foundation and influences from death, thrash and black metal. Working on new songs now, I think we are still perfecting our sound, and I think our next effort there might actually be more black metal influences.
Over the years you worked with many interesting and influential figures within extreme metal such as Ihsahn, Satyr (Satyricon), Varg Vikernes, Casey Chaos (Amen), Tchort and Bård G. “Faust” Eithun. What are your fondest memories working with those people and what did you learn from them as a musician and as a person?
Working with different skilled and creative people is of course an experience and often very motivating and inspiring. It’s my work with Emperor and Zyklon, and now also The Wretched End, that brings up the fondest memories, as these have been my real bands, where I have really put all of my time and effort into.
You witnessed the rise of Norwegian black metal in all its rawness and ditto controversy, however nowadays it’s considered a valid art form with bands being nominated for prestigious music awards and even a band competing in the preliminaries of the Eurovision Song Contest. What are your thoughts on this? What do you consider to be the major differences between the current scene and the scene of old?
Bands getting recognition by music awards I don’t mind, but taking part in the Eurovision Song Contest is definitely pushing it, ha ha! When I think of black metal, I think of the early 90’s and the movement that I was a part of back then. It was something unique and that feeling is long gone for me. Black metal today is different, even if I’m sure there are really good bands out there today. It’s hard to recapture that era in its pure essence. It was something special that I think a lot of today’s kids who get into black metal don’t really get in the same way. Today everything is served to you ready-made on a plate, right in front of you through your digital network, and there’s an overload of information and people doing the same thing. Back in the early days things were a bit more pure and had more of a struggle to it, and it was total underground of course. With a music genre, or anything really, becoming popular, there will always be new aspects that pop up, and often some of the initial feel gets watered out. Having said that, I’m not at all opposed to the popularity of the metal scene, but there are pros and cons to anything.
The genre as a whole came a long way since its primitive origins from being a strictly Norwegian affair with Mayhem, Burzum, Immortal and Emperor leading the charge, to an international movement with bands like Nachtmystium, Wolves In The Throne Room, Deathspell Omega and Blut Aus Nord pushing the creative envelope. What do you think of this and how important do you think it is to the scene to evolve and push the creative boundaries?
I think it is important to evolve and push boundaries or else things can become too stagnant. It’s also normal for a scene to go through changes, be it good or bad, it’s just the way things work in life.
You’re an active musician for over twenty years now, you got a couple of metal classics on your name and you run a celebrated label under the Nocturnal Art moniker. Did you ever expect that you would manage to achieve this when you started?
I was always very dedicated to music and to live a lifestyle based around music, and it became very clear to me at an early age that there was nothing else I wanted to do. I didn’t want to study, I didn’t want a normal job, I wanted to play music. Back in the early days I didn’t really think so much ahead, and was basically living in the moment. I guess as things became more serious I started to set more concrete goals, and looking back I think I have reached most of those goals. Of course, once you achieve a goal, you set new goals.
You are held in great esteem by many peers and metal fans worldwide. Does this do something to you or do you feel any pressure whatsoever?
Of course I truly appreciate all the respect from fans and supporters over the years, but as far as pressure goes, I try not to let that affect me so much. A little bit of pressure doesn’t hurt though, I guess, as it makes you work that little extra to make sure you are up to standard. I basically do my own thing and try to do my best, and I always aim to have a quality product out, regardless of having been in Emperor or not, you know.
Ha ha, not sure, can’t think of any special one on the top of my head really. It’s been some hilarious moments though, especially traveling around with Zyklon. The “terror twins” Secthdamon and Destructhor are great entertainers, both intended and sometimes unintended.
Thank you very much for participating. If you have any final thoughts or comments, please put them here.
Thanks for the interview! To all you fans out there, make sure to check out my new album, it’s available on CD from Cdon, Amazon, Plastichead, etc. Of course, if you prefer digital, purchase from iTunes, Amazon, etc. Also check out our official webstore for merchandise: http://www.omerch.com.
written by Raymond Westland