This interview has been published on Radio Metal the 07/07/2016.
Is Iceland the future of black metal? Considering the amount of fascinating records released by the local scene (Svartidauði, Wormlust, Sinmara…) these last few years and the enthusiasm it stirred, it may indeed be. And that’s what legendary Roadburn festival’s programmers must have been thinking as well: not only they added quite a few Icelandic bands to their prestigious line-up, but they even picked newcomers Misþyrming as the “artist in residence” of their 2016 edition, following nothing less than Enslaved or Neige from Alcest.
So it’s during Roadburn that I managed to catch three members of the band for an interview a few streets away from the agitation of the festival, despite their (very!) tight schedule: in three days, they would play up to six sets with different bands and musicians combinations, the highlight being the Úlfmessa (Icelandic for “wolves mass”), during which no less than ten musicians would appear on stage. We took advantage of this flurry of activity to talk about many aspects of the Icelandic black metal scene, from its functioning to its influences to its… consanguinity.
D.G., H.R.H. and, T.Í., who play in Naðra, Carpe Noctem, and NYIÞ on top of Misþyrming, display just as much enthusiasm as control, and just as much humility as ambition. One thing is certain: this is just the foretaste of all they have to give.
First, what does it feel like for you to be here? Not only to play at Roadburn but to be artist in residence… It’s quite an achievement, especially so early in your career!
D.G. (vocals, guitar): Yes! We just feel really happy about it.
H.R.H. (drums): It’s an enormous amount of work, though. Every single day is jam packed and you actually have to make time for moving your stuff between places, doing interviews…
How many sets are you guys playing? At least three?
T.Í. (guitar): I’m playing six, two a day.
D.G.: …And we’re doing four and a half.
Today, the third Úlfmessa is gonna take place. I don’t know if you wanna talk about it before it takes place, but what can you say about it? You did two before, maybe you can tell us a bit about these?
D.G.: The previous ones were done with the intention to take all the good things from each band and merge them into a ritual thing revolving around a mix of aesthetics. NYIÞ have a great, theatrical feel to them because of their outlook, the instrument played, the atmosphere they create, so I think they’re the center of the theme.
H.R.H.: We managed to incorporate all the other black metal projects in a sort of a ritual. It was like a ritualistic showcase of the bands involved.
T.Í.: There were actual themes within the rituals being performed. It kind of varies, but the music is always the main catalyst. That’s what drives people into the states. The first one was basically centered around masculine, Luciferian, fiery, destructive aspects, which is why we ended up destroying the venue it was performed in. The second one was more about the feminine, mystical and magical dark aspects… Two sides of the same coin. The third one is the in-between, so it’s gonna be very unbalanced and unnatural, but it’s supposed to give birth to something greater.
Do you have the idea that you will do more?
H.R.H.: Probably not.
T.Í.: If we do something like that again, it will be called something else and it will be completely different, and on its own terms.
Does it make a difference for you that this one is not taking place in your country, on your soil, but in Het Patronaat, which actually is an old church? Does it have a special meaning?
H.R.H.: Every single one has been performed in a different venue because the venue of the first Úlfmessa was actually destroyed after the thing. It’s been moved to a larger venue, and now for the third one, it’s even bigger.
D.G.: I like the fact that if the first two had more or less the same crowd—it was at the same festival in Iceland—, now people outside of Iceland that got interested in that get a chance at Roadburn. It should be a nice grand finale!
Misþyrming played a set yesterday that was made of new material I guess. Was it basically an album that is ready already and that will be out like that, or things that you’re currently working on and are in some kind of work-in-progress stage?
D.G.: I don’t wanna go too much into that, but most of these songs are ready in a form that might be just a bit different than the final version. It’s just all new material; as for the rest… Time will tell!
The artwork of Söngvar elds og óreiðu is a John Martin painting, right?
[All together]: Yes!
Why did you pick it? I do think it suits perfectly your music. It matches this kind of punk energy that we can hear, especially on this project…
D.G.: Yeah, the thing is, with both the artwork and the lyrics, I always have the music first, and the rest is inspired by the actual music. As you said, it fits.
H.R.H.: It’s complementary.
D.G.: And I wouldn’t disagree that we have the punk attitude. We like punk, or at least some of it. Punk is like very primitive black metal. All the leather jackets and shits…
How do you feel about the hype that’s surrounding you at the moment? You’re kind of an isolated scene, you’re quite young, you’ve got your own label… At the moment, it feels like everybody’s looking at you like: “Is this the new 90s’ Norwegian scene?” How do you feel about that? Are you flattered? Is it a kind of a drag?
H.R.H.: I don’t think it’s a drag.
D.G.: First of all, it’s an honor, and secondly, it’s rewarding to be appreciated for our hard work.
H.R.H.: At the same time, it’s something that we didn’t expect. It has been some kind of snowball effect. Everything started to grow larger and larger quicker and quicker. At a certain point, it was just out of our hands. We just let the publicity do the talk.
A couple of months ago took place the Oration MMXVI festival. It was a pretty big deal for your scene I guess?
D.G.: It was a natural thing to happen at this time considering what’s going on in our scene. And the guy behind it has recorded every other black metal from the last years.
I guess one of the first band that caught interest in that scene is Svartidauði, who are a bit older than you… Do you see them as references, or feel like they opened the way for all these newer bands?
D.G.: They’re good friends of ours and we’ve seen them live millions of times.
H.R.H.: We also played with them a bunch of times.
D.G.: Obviously we enjoy their music a lot. Of course, going to a black metal concert and seeing something like Svartidauði is a big influence before you form a band…
T.Í.: And it goes both ways because there are so many Icelandic black metal bands at this point, everybody knows each other in the scene, so everybody is working with each other. It’s a collaborative scene.
You run a label, Vánagandr: did you do it out of necessity, to bring everybody together or because you needed it to do your thing?
D.G.: It wasn’t exactly bringing us together, it was more like making a statement: “We have a lot of good shit going on!”
T.Í.: At some point, we just decided that we wanted to do it. We had four releases piled up and hadn’t even begun thinking about getting anyone to actually release them, so at some point, we were just like: “Why not do it ourselves?” At first, we did a bunch of dubbed tapes at home, and then more and more people started ordering so we started doing pro tapes because being DIY all the way was just too time-consuming.
D.G.: And they look nice when they are professionally manufactured. It’s just another project that succeeded/ We thought about having a shot at it because other tape labels had started to do that kind of things in their scene, so… We were like: “OK, we got three or four albums in the making, some of them are ready, so let’s do it; let’s release this stuff!”
And you’re releasing basically just your stuff, or you’re working with other people as well?
T.I.: Basically all the bands that we play in, and sometimes bands that we don’t. We did the Sinmara album on tape last year. We ask around if people want us to release their tapes; sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. Both are fine! [laughs]
D.G.: We’ve got a lot of stuff cooking… So time will tell how exactly we are connected to the scene.
How is it like to be involved in so many bands for all of you? How do you go from a project to another? When you write something, do you know for which project it will be?
D.G.: Each band has a different identity, different individuals and is a different combination of writers, so that’s what makes all the band different, and what gives them their own characteristics.
H.R.H.: There are different creative minds within each band but the thing is… One of the big reasons why we share so many members is just because of availability. We already are in the same rehearsal room, so it goes like: “Hey, can you play drums for us?” “OK!” [laughs]
D.G.: Yeah, it’s pretty much how it goes, that’s how he ended up in Naðra!
Often in reviews of Icelandic black metal records, the reviewer will at some point mention the landscapes of Iceland. That’s what we tend to do when we talk about black metal because in each country, each scene has a strong…
Exactly! So do you think it’s relevant in your case?
H.R.H.: You can’t really deny that the nature around you, or just your environment, influences you in some way or another, but I think it’s probably more subconscious. It doesn’t directly influence you, but it may be a more a more direct influence on some projects.
D.G.: It varies depending on individuals and bands. Some take more influence from the environment than others.
There’s been a long article about the Icelandic black metal scene on a website called The Grapevine which is a tourist website for Reykjavik, so I wonder how the black metal scene fits in the wider cultural scene here, and how the interest in the Icelandic black metal scene relates to the wider interest in Iceland…
D.G.: Outside of Iceland, the only people who know these bands are the ones who know how to look for it. In our country, this article and a few others got us more attention, and of course playing Roadburn as well, it’s something that people notice.
H.R.H.: People have also started to notice that these last few years, there are a lot of really solid albums coming out of the Icelandic black metal scene, so it’s a natural question to wonder what’s happening there… That’s where the snowball effect takes in I guess.
Maybe I’m biased because I’m French, but it’s also something that has been said a lot about your scene: the influence of a band like…
All together: Here it comes…
… Deathspell Omega is often mentioned, but I would even go as far as saying that I can hear some Aosoth, and even Peste Noire influences on a track like “Söngur uppljómunar” for instance…
T.Í.: We love the French scene. Everything from Blut Aus Nord to old school shit like Légions Noires… It’s no secret, but it’s definitely not the only place we get our inspiration from.
D.G.: I don’t know what’s in their water, though…
T.Í.: They have fluorite, we have sulfur [laughs].
D.G.: I think the French black metal scene is and has been for a long time the strongest in the world.
The most striking difference between the French scene, especially nowadays, and yours is, I would say, that the French scene is kinda scattered with strong, independent individualities, whereas yours is much more cohesive. It’s probably just a matter of size, though…
D.G.: Yeah… Here, half of our nation lives in the capital area. It’s impossible not to get to know the other bands.
H.R.H.: Everybody’s related to each other, more or less, so you can say that the scene is both very close and degenerate [laughs].
D.G.: Actually, [T.Í.]’s wife is my niece!
T.Í.: But we only found out when we visited his grandmother who is my wife’s great-grandmother, and who had a picture of [D.G.] on the wall!
H.R.H.: We have almost the same story in Carpe Noctem. Me and one of our guitar players actually found out that our great-grandmothers were sisters after having known each other for like 5 or 6 years, like: “Wow, we’re cousins!” [laughs]
Last question before you go and get ready for tonight’s set: what’s next?
D.G.: We are gonna do a lot of international gigs through the year basically, so we’re gonna work on that and definitely look into to more shows in 2017, it will just depend on our schedule… We got a lot of stuff cooking for all the bands involved.