Cult legends of the Norwegian black metal scene, Darkthrone’s three decades of existence has been fuelled by their bottomless well of creativity. Never ones to sit on their laurels, the two-piece have long since escaped the confines of corpse paint, fully embracing all metal sub-genres unpolished and underground.
With their excellent 20th LP Astral Fortress freshly dropping (our review here) – a mere year and a half after the epic Eternal Hails… – we got to chat with guitarist/vocalist/bassist/writer/producer Ted ‘Nocturno Culto’ Skjellum. In an Australian exclusive, Nocturno goes in-depth on creating the band’s newest album, Darkthone being a non-touring entity, his new signature guitar, plans for their next full length release (!) and much more!
With Eternal Hails… coming out 16 months ago, were you happy with how that album turned out? Did you try to achieve anything different with Astral Fortress?
Eternal Hails… was our first visit in Chaka Kahn Studio, and some kind of a new experience for us in many years, we recorded in our own studio from 2005-2019. So what we tried to do on Astral Fortress was just a continuation, but it always turn out a bit different than what you had in mind. Astral Fortress is probably our slowest, most melodic album since…well that´s up to others to decide. Eternal Hails… got a rough birth in studio, and it slowly evolved into its own being. Lots of new equipment to learn and so on. We all learned a lot from Eternal Hails… that we brought over to Astral Fortress.
For me personally, being in another studio also meant that much work and worries was taken off my shoulders. Being responsible for all the recordings, and mixing in Necrohell 2, was starting to take its toll.
What was it about Chaka Khan Studios that drew you back there again? What was the recording process like?
The people and the equipment there is what drew us there again. There is so much vintage analogue gear there, so we get ideas along the way. We will record there again, but then, with a different result of course. An album is like a painting (bear with me), the actual painting is the music and the songs, and the frame is the sound. You can always put a straight black plastic frame on a painting, but believe me, it´s better to carve out details in a proper frame to better portray and bring your work to people the way you want them to feel. If you feel nothing….move along. The process of recording is basically the same as it always was. We record live the drums and one guitar, then I add the other guitars and bass.
This time around, on our 20th album, we have a «label» on it saying: ‘No Metronome Since 1987’. And that says it all. This is how we work, we play instruments together, not with a computer. This allows our music to breathe and be dynamic.
Darkthrone have become renowned as something of a perpetual writing machine – is inspiration always on tap for you, or do you simply sit down and force yourself to write?
Inspiration is always there, always some ideas that float around in my head, so when the dam actually breaks, it will be an intense few months to write. You kind of living in a jail for some time. And, to explain why we now have released 20 full length albums, and how we can be so efficient is easy. We don´t bother with other things regarding Darkthrone, such as live performance, sticking our heads out now and then to get attention. We have chosen the hard path to walk, namely let the music itself do most of the work, the albums. Darkthrone has gained ground VERY slowly in 35 years.
The new single ‘Caravan of Broken Ghosts’ is a real melting pot of different sounds – some acoustic guitars, as well as some proto-thrash and doom-y sounds – is it an indication of the rest of the album?
Not really an indication, but as many probably have realised by now, we are mixing genres. That is also how Darkthrone started. A Blaze in the Northern Sky is mixing genres also, even though the sound is black metal, and IS black metal. And especially from The Cult Is Alive we have gone down that path. We celebrate metal in our heads. By that I mean METAL, not pop-metal.
Eternal Hails… contained some brooding, almost John Carpenter-style synths/keyboards – will they also feature on Astral Fortress?
Yes they will. We used different synthesizers this time around, and also there will be a re-visit from Mellotron (analogue).
With the full length album format potentially struggling for relevancy with the next generation, is album structure and track-running order still important for Darkthrone?
I do not agree at all with the premise of this question, because the next generation will understand the importance of full length albums. People NEED full length albums. And the youth is smart enough to understand and appreciate the format. It will live on as long as there is music. Especially in rock/metal genres, people want this format, for all eternity.
The premise of Darkthrone not being a touring entity is a unique one within this industry – is there ever any temptation for the band to return the live stage? Surely there have been many offers throughout the years?
The offers keep on coming, believe me. We have said no to being wealthy for years and years. I believe Darkthrone is kind of isolated in many areas, but we like it that way. We don´t see ourselves as something else other than ordinary men with a passion for music. So stage, touring and personal attention is not what we seek, but what we want to leave behind…..yes you guessed it, full length albums. A Blaze in the Northern Sky was originally meant to be a mini album, but luckily we discussed it, and agreed on taking our time to make an LP.
Touching on not touring again, was the rise of the internet a good or bad thing for Darkthrone’s career?
That´s a bit difficult to answer, but internet is 30% positive and 70% very dangerous. If I was able to delete two inventions, it would be airplanes and the internet.
Darkthrone has been with Peaceville since your debut record Soulside Journey – surely it must be one of the longest record label/band relationships in metal. What’s your secret?
The secret is to not be impatient, but to work slowly onwards and have respect for each other. And I have to say that all these years has been absolute great for us. Peaceville is transparent and fair, we will continue this relationship until the end. If they want us of course.
Your new signature guitar with Solar Guitars has been recently unveiled – can you tell us how that partnership started and what are some essential elements your instrument had to have?
Well it´s all a coincidence, but a good one. I got in touch with them wondering where I could try out some of their guitars, and they told me that I had to seek out someone that had one. I said thank you for the answer and goodbye. And after some days they got in touch again, and sent me a couple of guitars of my choice. So, the G model just felt absolutely right for me, something about the neck profile and so on. It sounded great, and was weighty and good (I like the old school mahogany body), so I just played those guitars and have not looked back hehe. Over the years I have had all the big names in the guitar world, and they are all good, but now was the time to play something else.
My signature has the Seymour Duncan Distortion pickups, originally released in 1980, and those pickups are just amazing, and can do everything you need no matter what. Passive pickups is a must for me, I recorded Hate Them and Sardonic Wrath with active pickups, and it worked fine, but the personality of the tone is less interesting compared to passive pickups. But this is just MY taste. You also have the ability to split the humbuckers to get true single coil, that adds to the versatility to the guitar. Satin neck finish, and classical look overall. I wanted the standard Solar inlays, because it makes the guitar look very clean. And, since it´s a signature guitar, I had to have SOMETHING on it, so I asked for a very low-key signature on the back of the headstock. Versatile guitar.
With Astral Fortress Darkthrone’s 20th album, do you ever think about your legacy as a group, or are you always looking forwards to what’s next?
So far we have only looked forward, but there is no denying that I have thought about our long continuous path together. We have been ON for all these years, and hopefully we will be able to do more albums. But you never know. Next major happening is to enter the studio again in April. We are excited about that, and what that will have in store, who knows.
Thank you for your time! Do you have any final words on the new album, and for the Australian Darkthrone fans?
Well, first of all, thanks for understanding us. We never thought that we would continue for so many years. When we were youngsters, we were always appreciative when people understood what we were doing, because that is not written in stones. If you ever feel bored by the plastic, come to us, we will offer you a lifetime of deep roots and lakes of bliss. Thank you.
Written by – Andrew Kapper.
Darkthrone – Astral Fortress tracklisting
1. Caravan Of Broken Ghosts [07:53]
2. Impeccable Caverns Of Satan [05:34]
3. Stalagmite Necklace [05:22]
4. The Sea Beneath The Seas Of The Sea [10:10]
5. Kevorkian Times [04:27]
6. Kolbotn, West Of The Vast Forests [01:54]
7. Eon 2 [04:40]
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