I often wonder about the efficacy of rock and roll. While metal and hardcore were once able to maintain rock and roll’s essential base element of rebellion, its imitators and offshoot genres have made these scenes stale and irrelevant. Ever defiant of commercial appeal, black metal has risen from the complacency of these scenes. Originating as a rebellion against the predictable paint-by-numbers death metal of the early ’90s (a rebellion in itself at one time) black metal is like any true art form: it has shaken and scared off its imitators. It has burned on until all that remains is its core.
1349, a four-piece band from Oslo, Norway, can proudly maintain the title of true Norwegian black metal. They have released five albums since their inception in 1997. Their latest, Demonoir, is being hailed as their greatest and a most mean testament to the tenets this genre: dark, brutal, atmospheric, and uncompromising. I was at their show on the last night of their US Weltenbrand tour, co-headlining with Tom G. Warrior’s (Celtic Frost) band Triptykon. I was lucky to have some time with front man Ravn and guitarist Archaon to discuss the tour, the album, and the health and the spirit of rebellion in black metal.
How has tour been, the fans, the shows?
Archaon: It’s been an interesting experience in many ways; all in all I think it has been a great outcome, where the highlight was definitely San Francisco. We had such a good night, a really a blinding show.
I would imagine that the interaction with the fans is what it is all about live.
Archaon: Absolutely. [It’s] the biggest factor of the outcome of a show. Just like I mentioned, the show in San Francisco was amazing; one of very few shows that really kicks your blood going, and, yeah, you tend to lose some kind of control. You get carried away. It doesn’t feel right to control it anymore. You’re given something and you want to give everything back; and it’s just a synergy where the outcome is being the absolute climax of the show.
Ravn: I feel a lot of the mood that’s in the room — the energy that lies behind people. Whether or not they are physical or more still, standing, isn’t that relevant. Basically, it’s the mood. Of course, if people are getting physically involved, that adds to the whole thing. But you can really tell by the mood of the room — if they are really getting into it, that’s what I feed off the most in a live situation.
What is the essence of true black metal that you are trying to preserve and enhance?
Ravn: The essence of black metal is that it’s so very personal. It triggers a kind of a primal emotion and feeling inside you, which is something that’s being suppressed by religious societies and kind of grown into the ethics of the world in general. But these feelings are still present in every man and in order to get [an] outlet for them I think black metal is the perfect arena for that. Music that triggers these emotions, I label as black metal — meaning that, there are a lot of bands calling themselves black metal that don’t invoke this kind of feeling in me. I don’t count them as black metal. That’s the main thing about black metal to me.
It’s a channeling of this energy, of these impulses that you find a release for in your music.
Ravn: You use them in a creative way.
And your lyrics reflect these things?
Ravn: The lyrics are black poetry, we just call them. They are visions that you get from listening to the music.
How was touring with Tom G. Warrior and Triptykon?
Ravn: It’s been a great experience touring with Triptykon. It really added a lot to the tour. It’s good to tour with friends when you incur problems and stuff. I think it’s very exciting when you think about [Tom’s] past and see how far he has taken his other bands. It’s not often that you can work alongside with people that have caused a lot of inspiration.
He was also a co-producer of your last album.
Archaon: For us, he was the perfect option. He’s also a personal mentor for each and every one [of us]. He was really the best option, I believe, that we could have ever brought in for that job.
The new album, while being innovative, doesn’t betray what black metal is all about.
Archaon: Then we succeeded.
I agree. Even further, as a band you guys haven’t seemed to stray from what the black metal movement is about. Many underground musical movements suffer from their imitators.
Ravn: 1349 was founded for that specific reason. In the later half of the ’90s, the things that you mentioned started to happen: bigger labels got introduced, and people tried to adapt and added allot of synthesizers and melodics. It all turned into something that I didn’t recognize as being black metal, so that’s why I formed 1349, in order to maintain what I really liked about black metal and maintain the heritage that was there. And that’s what we’ve been focusing on ever since.
And black metal at its most uncompromising seems to be about rebellion.
Ravn: You need a rebel otherwise things will be set in stone. You can’t have that, mind controlling religions ruling the world, turning everyone into sheep. You need some wolves to walk among them.
These are strong words, sentiments the band stands behind as evidenced by their eviscerating live show. Donning corpse paint and spikes, the band plays in absolute darkness, with no banter in between songs. I felt by the end of the show that the crowd simply could not keep up with this incessant brutality. 1349 play black metal as it was meant to be played: grim, dark, intense and uncompromising. As Archaon said during our interview, “That’s why we’re here.”
Jim Trainer is a singer/songwriter and freelance writer living and playing in Austin, TX. He can be reached at www.jimtrainer.net.