(Comrade Aleks secured the opportunity to interview Nortt, the influential Danish black/funeral-doom band, whose new album was released near the last day of 2017 after a 10-year absence.)
Nortt is a semi-legendary project that first appeared in the European underground about 22 years ago. Tagged as “pure depressive black funeral doom metal”, this one-man band held its position as the genre’s pioneer ’til 2007. Nortt’s cold and nihilistic sound inspired his followers, and after a collection of well-received records (including three full-length albums) the project simply disappeared.
The news of Nortt’s fourth coming on December 29, 2017 become a kind of event for those who remember the dark and ominous records Gudsforladt, Ligfaerd, and Galdenfrist. So now, as the new full-length Endeligt (and the first one in ten years) is appearing on the famous Italian label Avantgarde Music, it’s a damn right time to ask some questions to Nortt himself!
Hail Nortt! First of all, my congratulations! Endeligt should be released on the 29th of December, and it’s your first appearance for ten years. So what made you return to music?
Thank you. Well, I never left music, I just didn’t have the need to record. So your question should be paraphrased to ask why I started recording again? And I still don’t fully know. Papers and notes with songs written on them started to pile up and I felt I had the time. I guess the easiest answer is that the stars simply aligned in a fruitful way.
It’s unknown if you were playing in other bands or projects during these ten years. But I’ve listened to Endeligt, and it’s obvious that you’re in good creative form still. It’s like your new material starts from the point where Galgenfrist stops. How did you keep it?
I never stopped composing during the years. I kept writing music and lyrics all the time. I’m not sure I agree that Endeligt starts where Galgenfrist ended. Or to some extent it does, as the essence of Nortt is unaffected, but it is two very different albums, within the narrow boundaries of Nortt of course.
How would you describe the main features of Endeligt then?
I’m not completely sure what you mean, but Endeligt has some traits from all previous albums. Of course, it still has the darkness and the depth. Those are the main elements in any of my albums. The tempo of Galgenfrist was intended to be dragging-the-noose-slow, but with Endeligt things are back to “normal”.
As the album keeps nearly the same vibe as Galgenfrist, I’d like to ask you what was your primary goal when you started to work over the new material?
The goal changed with time. For a long time I was convinced that Endeligt would be my last album, my requiem. Then at some point I thought it would turn out as a compilation of unreleased songs because the songs were composed with vast time spans between, so it seemed difficult to create a coherent album feeling. In the end, I just started to record with no particular goal, except to make another album.
How long did you work over it actually? What kept you inspired or motivated?
I recorded the title track right after the release of Galgenfrist, and then my recording drought began. I started to record more intensely again a year or two ago, but by then all the material was already composed, so the songs date further back in time. I recorded each song in its own session, which explains the slightly different production from song to song. Because of that, it’s difficult to tell how much time I used to record the album. It’s not wrong to say that I have been working on it since the release of Galgenfrist, just with some hibernation in-between writing and recording sessions.
Inspiration has never been an issue – I get inspired all the time. It was a lack of motivation that was the issue. But this time I actually think that the recording itself became motivating. Once you have recorded the music for half of the album, it would have been a shame not to walk the last stretch, so I just continued at my own glacial pace.
What made you take that ten-years-long break in 2007? Wasn’t it strange to stop recording after many years of activity?
There’re different reasons. Some have to do with my private life, and I felt discouraged towards recording. I heard more and more bands playing a somewhat similar genre, and I thought many of them had a better sound and production, which made Nortt seem far behind. I had become the old crippled man yelling something insignificant in the background. And then I thought, “Does the world really need another album by Nortt?” It wasn’t strange at all to stop recording, since I simply didn’t have the need or the will. I just lived in my own world where recording didn’t seem necessary.
Did Nortt’s followers write you all these years asking for a new album? Do you communicate with people who dig your music?
I withdrew my contact information in order to avoid communicating with people. I can’t really handle attention, and I would get a bad conscience if I couldn’t give a decent reply to those who wrote. So no, I don’t communicate with people who are into my music.
In which conditions did you record Endeligt? Did you use only old equipment or did you update your sonic armoury?
I have a humble studio at home, so I have the privilege to be able to record whenever I feel like it. I mainly used my old equipment that I have collected over the years, but a key difference this time is that I upgraded to a 24-track recorder. Believe it or not, but Gudsforladt, Ligfærd and Galgenfrist were all recorded on an eight-track hard disc recorder, so I constantly had to mix down. However, this time I could really splurge with the tracks and it made the mixing process a lot easier.
The new compositions are shorter than those you compiled for Ligfærd or Galgenfrist, so Endeligt rather reminds of Nortt’s debut Gudsforladt with its structure. Do you feel that shorter tracks are enough for you to express everything you need?
The arrangements of the songs are closer to Gudsforladt, you are right. The reason for the shorter tracks this time is a consequence of several factors. Initially I arranged the songs to be instrumental, which naturally decreased the length. I also wanted to tighten the arrangements in order to achieve a more pronounced song feeling, if that makes sense. You could say that I have taken my usual minimalistic approach and applied it to the arrangements as well.
The shorter tracks were enough to contain my ideas, otherwise they would obviously have turned out longer. If I had recorded all the material during the same session, like it is the practice in most studio recordings, I could also have decided to make one long song since the music could be connected somehow. Still, the lyrics had to be separate, since I doubt I could find a way to connect them into one mammoth song. Maybe the easiest way to explain the shorter songs would be that I composed a song and recorded it and so on, and the songs simply had a natural length.
By the way, how do you actually see Nortt’s evolution from Gudsforladt ’til Endeligt? Did you search for it? Or is Nortt rather something frozen in time?
I surely see an evolution, although not so much in the thoughts behind the music. If I were to paint a dualistic picture, you can say that the spirit of Nortt is more frozen than the body. What I want to express – the spirit – hasn’t evolved much. However, the sound and the production – the body – has evolved a lot, I think. I always strive to create a better sound and take it further than my previous work.
In one of your interviews you spoke of your sympathies to pagan and satanic beliefs. Does it appear in the lyrics for Endeligt? For what kind of message do you use Nortt nowadays?
My sympathies with pagan and satanic beliefs are not particularly explicit in my lyrics and they never really were. The sympathies are there if you analyze my lyrics closely, but I’ve grown too old to try to carry a concrete message across. I simply create music, which is inspired by death, darkness, misanthropy, nihilism, Satanism or the esoteric sciences – themes that are essential to my own existential and epistemological path. Whatever people take from my creations is out of my hands anyway.
Nortt is the project which somehow keeps the spirit of the ’90s; it’s soaked with that old school aesthetic. But back then there were only few demos on your discography. How would you describe your first years in the underground?
Difficult would be my first thought about how it was to be an underground musician in the latter half of the ’90s. I wrote the first song and lyric for Nortt (and came up with the name) in 1995, but I had nowhere to record. If you didn’t have money for a studio, you had to know someone with recording equipment, so it took me a couple of years to track down a studio. Getting contacts was a slow process because communication was by snail mail, since the internet was barely functional yet. So I faced very different obstacles than today where you can record on every computer.
I do miss the mystery that metal had before the internet wiped out the underground. It took a lot of effort to simply find new music – you had to get foreign currencies and send it in the mail when you wanted to buy a record from some obscure mail order catalogue written on a typewriter. And you rarely knew anything about the artists unless you found an interview in a fanzine. That was underground. But I wouldn’t go back. The ’90s had its mysterious charm, but overall I don’t miss it. Mentally, however, one could claim that I still live in the ’90s, since I never really embraced the internet and certainly not social media.
Did you feel yourself a part of the black metal scene in those days?
Back then? Definitely! I felt very closely connected to black metal, maybe not so much to a particular scene, but to black metal wholeheartedly.
Do you want to continue working in anonymity? Is it an important part of Nortt’s artistic image?
The anonymity is a side effect of my method and my personality. It was never intended to be part of the image, but with time, I guess it has become part of the image. I have very little need to share my creative process, so I’ll continue to work in anonymity.
How did you find your own sound? The combination of black and extreme doom isn’t a popular thing, but it has its listeners, and you were the first who started it… Also this blend is pretty minimalistic. Is it enough to express your ideas?
I was into doom metal before I discovered black metal, so it seemed very straightforward to marry the two genres. The fact that I have evolved my own sound is also a side effect, as I never even thought that would be possible, but when you listen to my music, you can almost instantly hear that’s Nortt, and I am slightly proud of that.
Have you receives emails from the bands who tell you that Nortt inspired them to do the music in the same direction? How was it when you discovered that some bands have tried to copy or develop your sound?
I did receive some music from bands that claimed to be inspired by Nortt, and that is of course a great compliment. But as implied earlier, it also made me think that Nortt had become the cripple in the background, since many of the bands seemed to have developed the sound to a level that I wasn’t capable of creating. Then again, I also stand on the shoulders of bands like Burzum, Thergothon, and Skepticism, and if it weren’t for me switching between those discs, I would have never come up with this combination.
So you’re here, Avantgarde Music just released Endeligt… What’s next? Will you stay here for awhile and record some new stuff? Or did you return just for one album?
It’s too early to say. These days I’m working on a re-recording of the song Sørgesalmen from the demo Graven, and I have some other ideas that I want to explore as well. But right now, it’s impossible to say what the end result of these endeavors will be. Maybe a new album, maybe it will never meet the public eye, or maybe I’ll record under a new band name if the music strays too far from Nortt. All of the above are possibilities. I will, however, continue to create music, that much I know.
To order Endeligt: