NCS contributor Karina Noctum, based in Norway, talked to Hans Fyrste (ex-Ragnarok) about his band Svarttjern, which also counts in its ranks Grimmdun (drums), HaaN (guitars), and Malphas (bass), who are currently in Carpathian Forest, and guitarist Fjellnord (Magister Templi). They are on Soulseller Records and currently recording a new album. The conversation revolves around the band’s personal significance, the lyrical themes, and different perspectives when it comes to music and record labels, among other things… All photos accompanying the text are the work of Silje Storm.
How would you describe your sound and how does it stand out from other bands in the scene?
That’s a hard question, but I think that over the years Svarttjern has kept on going with doing what we want to do and I think our thrash influences have grown more and more. At the same time we have gotten more in-depth in Black Metal, which is more of the aggressive nature of the music. I don’t really know how to describe it, but I think we can say it’s dirty music with a touch of elegance.
You play with other bands, why did you feel the need to create your own project?
Svarttjern was our first project, the guitarist HaaN and I started the band back in 2003. We started out like immature kids who wanted to play Black Metal and create our own sound. But over the years we all got involved in projects bigger or smaller. I was in Ragnarok for some years and now three of the guys play in Carpathian Forest. What has actually happened now is kind of the opposite, we would like to join other projects, but we want to keep Svarttjern as our homebase. We want Svarttjern to feel like home where we do whatever we want with no pressure at all.
We don’t want any pressure. We have left record labels because they pressured us. We have said no to a lot of gigs, a lot of tours, we say no to everything, and that’s because Svarttjern is our homebase when we meet and be together like in the old days. We want to create our own music, have a good time with it. We don’t want any pressure or influence from any record labels, only ourselves. We kept Svarttjern at a very baseline, but all the other members have had the opportunity to join different projects and elaborate other different musical influences through those while we get back to basics with Svarttjern. We called it Svarttjern because it was our first Black Metal band and we kept it that way through all these years. Svarttjern is a very personal band.
In which ways did these labels pressure you and why don’t you like them influencing you?
First I want to say that really appreciate it actually. I think about 4 or 5 years ago we had some labels that wanted to pressure us to take a pretty nice direction. They got us on tour with really big headlining bands, but at the same time they demanded more control of our artistic influence, and we said to each other at that point that if a record label’s deciding for us what our music should sound like then it was not going to work for us. I’m very personal with my lyrics and with my album titles, so when a record label tells me what my album should be called then I’m not interested. I would have made a million dollars on it then sure, but it’s not a job for us, it’s a lifestyle. I’m not interested in people telling me how our music should sound like because for them it’s just a product, for us it’s art. We quit the label because they demanded certain commercial directions for us which we did not agree with.
Why was it important for you to step outside the bounds of the genre?
Because we like it. We want to play music we like. I don’t give a shit about the genre. More and more people say that, so it’s kind of running out of date, but Black metal is just a name people put on the genre. If we boil it down to what we do, we play rock ‘n’ roll with lots of influences. We wanna play something that we like. We grew up with Slayer, Metallica, all the big four and all that shit. Also we have gotten many influences from many great Norwegian bands which drive us. But we want to make music that we think sounds good and that we like to play and it doesn’t matter if it is partly fast and aggressive combined with thrashy slow parts, so be it. We just like it and we only do what we want.
Are you currently writing new material?
Yeah we are in the studio right now, The album will be called Shame Is Just a Word, it’s going to be a pretty dirty album. But we have not announced it so much because we have to settle some things with our record label Soulseller Records. They work with other Norwegian bands like Gorgoroth and Ancient.
What can we expect the sound to be like? Is it going to be in the same vein as what you have previously done?
On our first albums we had a sound engineer who was really into this really mechanical sound. Even though they have an aggressive sound, the drum sound is really triggered. So we spent some years just trying to get off that path. So on the last album, which is called Dødskrik, we got a more natural sound when it comes to the guitars, and the drums as well. The vocals have never been tampered with, so I think we are just aiming now for the same sound as the last album. We prefer a more natural sound now than the over-engineered one we had earlier.
Nothing pretty experimental with the sound, but speaking for myself, when it comes to the vocals then I would say, yes, I do try to experiment a bit with the pronunciation which has evolved over the years. Nothing too fancy, but a step into a positive direction.
What do you think of modern Black Metal acts that do not have a BM image?
I have no idea. I have probably never heard of them or never seen them. I never checked them out. To be honest with you about it, I don’t give a fuck about a lot of what’s going on. I’m probably pretty boring. I never check out new bands nor go to new gigs. I just don’t do it. I’m not interested at all. I think out of the new bands that I really enjoy, one is a Norwegian band called Nordjevel and that’s probably because I know the guys, but that’s probably the only new band that I have listened to in the last 10 years that I actually enjoy. It’s not because I try to be hidden in a place. It’s just because I just don’t fucking care. I play my own music and that’s enough for me. I don’t really need to check other bands.
So you just tend to focus on the old bands that have influenced everyone like Slayer, Motörhead and such…
I just listen to the music I want to listen to. If I want to listen to Rolling Stones one day then I listen to it. But if I want to listen to Marduk or Funeral Mist another day I’ll listen to that. I’m not that into music. I’m an artist but I don’t really need to listen to other bands to get influences. I turn off the phone; I turn off my music; and go for a walk in the forest. I don’t care about other bands’ music.
Do you think they kind of sound the same or generic, perhaps?
I am not the judge of new bands. My voice simply doesn’t count. I’m not the one to judge them because I simply don’t care. Probably there are some really good bands out there. But I stopped caring many years ago because I’m not interested. I have my inspiration and I have done music that I like listening to. I’d much rather be sitting on my terrace and listening to some old funky blues than some shitty Black Metal band from wherever. I don’t care. But again, if I’m ever in the position where I actually check out a band and then I say “this is great”, then I would probably be the first person to walk up to those guys and say “you guys are fucking great.” I really like that. So it’s just because I don’t care, but when I first like something then I’m pretty ecstatic about it.
The thing is that I’m a family guy, and I don’t have time — like in the old days, when I sat around drinking beer and having a good time — I just don’t have time to listen to music. Usually I listen to something I know and it’s always different genres. I listen to lots of Blues — Memphis blues, old school. I love it.
Well I like Robert Johnson…
Yeah, if you check that guy and you start digging in his background and where he learned all the stuff. Oh there’s so much nice blues. I love the feeling of it. It’s dark, lots of dark stuff and I love it.
Do you jam or just write parts and send them to each other? How do you compose?
I’m a pretty privileged vocalist because I have always played with really good musicians in all the bands I’ve been in, specially Svarttjern. They all have a huge passion for the music. But I’m on the sideline when these guys are sending music back and forth and putting the songs together. It’s mainly HaaN or Gamle Erik who is making most of the music together with Fjellnord, who is the other guitar player, and Malphas, our bassist. So my job starts when everything is done and I have to put the lyrics on it; I have said in interviews before that I do not take any credit whatsoever for the music Svarttjern are making today. I kind of add some spice to the end product with my lyrics and my singing. But I do have a say in the outcome, even though I’m not involved due to other personal matters. All honour for my brothers in Svarttjern because they really are my brothers, we have been together through thick and thin. They do this and I just add a little bit of spice.
What would be the lyrical themes of the new album?
For all the other albums they are all based in a numerological system and all the lyrics are hidden between many layers. On the previous album they are all together. Our first album was Misanthropic Path of Madness, then Towards the Ultimate and Ultimatum Necrophilia. It’s a sentence: misanthropic path of madness towards the ultimate ultimatum necrophilia. They all hang together. They are all dug down into a numerological system which I made many years ago. I got hospitalized by the end of that period actually. But it has always been important for me to kind of always stick to that strict basis of what my lyrics or philosophy or art surrounds itself with. But I’m not going to do it so much in this new album.This new album is going to be about rape, necrophilia, just enjoying death.
We called it Shame Is Just a Word because what we want to say is just fuck off. This is going to be a pretty honest, dirty album which tells the story, or many stories, of us guys not giving a fuck about different situations and that is why we call it Shame is Just a Word because we always said fuck off to the Black Metal scene. We always said fuck off to people who didn’t like us or like us on the run. Fuck off to everything because we don’t care. We are musicians and artists and we don’t need you to like us as long as we are having a good time and are getting something out of it, it’s good enough for us. We are not caught up in the whirlwinds of what’s accepted or not. So if you fuck a fat lady just to tell a good story to your friends then that’s it… shame is just a word. Fuck off!
We sing about rape and necrophilia. The lust for death and the stench of death. I mean I miss my old freezer with dead animals when I kinda would spend an afternoon with them. It’s just fuck off! shame is just a word!
As a writer have you ever tried to put yourself inside the head of people who commit those kind of deviations?
I have read stuff about some deviations and it is interesting, but I don’t expect people to study my lyrics because it is my personal opinion as an artist. I’m not really interested in the person who has committed this and why he is thinking or what he is thinking. I’m more interested in writing about things that crawl beneath your skin and make you wanna do it. Because I have always wanted to influence people subconsciously and if I did that or not, I don’t know. I have always wanted to hit people where it hurts. Over the years I have gotten interesting feedback, not always positive, on how my lyrics dig into you in some settings, and that is what I’m after.
I’m not interested in reading about necrophilia, but if I can talk to somebody in different words so they may understand it in a different context, that’s my goal. I have never committed necrophilia by the way, just to get it on the record. I just can’t afford the vaseline, it’s too expensive in Norway with gas prices and all.
When it comes to your connection to other big bands, does it make it easy, is it an advantage when it comes to Svarttjern or is it a disadvantage?
Of course when three of the guys play in Carpathian Forest people check out the other bands the musicians play in and find Svarttjern. When I played in Ragnarok back in the days it was an advantage as well because we had the attention of more people. But on the other hand Svarttjern never took advantage of it because we still play kind of the same festivals and we never jumped on the train making us super-big or whatever. I think and I hope we will just remain in the underground. So we have gained lots of attention, but we didn’t take advantage of it on false premises.
Did you see the Lords of Chaos movie? What do you think of it?
I have not seen the movie. I don’t know what to think. I read parts of the book many years back. I mean you have to take it for what it is. Some people want to see it as a Hollywood production like The Dirt from Mötley Crue, and if you see it for what it is is probably good, but if you want to study all the details of what really happened or not, then there are probably a lot of mistakes as people have figured out already. I haven’t seen it because I haven’t figured out how. I’m going to see it when I get the opportunity and I have no expectations either. It’s just a movie, so quit the criticism.