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September 2, 1999
In the 90's, black metal has risen from the darkest depths of the underground to find itself a formidable metal sub-genre. Dimmu Borgir has become one of the most visible bands on the scene. Although they have taken advantage of the opportunity to spread their message worldwide and expand the boundaries of traditional black metal, they have also taken flak for being a commercial entity. On the second date of the band's first North American tour, the Metal Update caught up with lead guitarist Astennu to get the inside scoop on the roots and progression of Dimmu Borgir.
METAL UPDATE: Is there any question that Dimmu Borgir is a black metal band?
ASTENNU: No, man, black metal is a total lifestyle that's got nothing to do with the style of music you play. Well it does, O.K., but us personally it is a whole lifestyle. You know, we do this and we don't have another job. We do this 24 hours a day. We cut off all of our parents and family - everybody's cut off - because we want to do it 24 hours a day. Otherwise you have to sneak around. So we really have made it a whole lifestyle and it takes up every second of our time to do all the promotion - we do everything ourselves. So, for us, we are a satanic black metal band.
MU: How does black metal and Dimmu Borgir fit into the overall metal scene?
A: Our goal is that we want to get another opinion out there. That's the whole idea, you know? We got a lot of shit for being commercial, being on a big record label, doing whatever, you know, but at the end of the day in our lyrics we're not telling people what to do. We're just saying, hey, this is another idea that is out there in this fucking stupid world. We just want our opinion to be able to have the chance like everything else. That's the whole point. You know, you watch TV - it's like the television tells you what to wear, what to buy, what movies to watch, where to go, and even what time to do stuff. For us, TV is the worst religion out. It's only because for us - when we were young - it was the same. We didn't know any better. So, I think right now the whole deal for us is that we want to make sure that we can get a different opinion to the world. It's not a thing where you must do this, or do what we are saying. It's like, hey there's something else here, have a think about it.
MU: You are not preaching...
A: No. No way, because that's what we're against.
MU: So what does Satan have to do with it?
A: Satanism in the purist form is "to do what I create" and "I do and I will". It's all about yourself. It's about your will. It's about your energy. The word Satan - a lot of different bands use it and it means different things for different bands because, you know, if this wasn't called a couch (gesturing to the couch he is seated on) we wouldn't know how to communicate. It is just a word. We use the word Satan, and you've got to look at the other words around it. You've got to read the whole picture and everything. If we put in our lyrics - instead of the word Satan - we put "be yourself, create as much as you can for yourself," people would be like, "huh?" It's just a communication breakdown problem. It's also got to do with, "I will do whatever I want to get where I want." You can never kill every Christian. You know, we are very anti-Christian. Our country is 95% Lutheran. A couple of hundred years ago all the Christians came through and killed everybody and all that shit, so - not that we are going down to burn churches - but we just want to say sometimes what you think is better than what other people can tell you.
MU: The word Satan comes from the Christian religion.
A: That's right, but it comes back to communication. If we made a new word for it, nobody would know what we're trying to talk about. Basically, of course, Christians made up 666 - they made everything. They have to make another persona for everyone to be scared of otherwise no one would join their fucking religion. We're just trying to say that if they want to make up that shit, then this is what they're going to get. If we can use their stupidity to get people to understand, then it's not the persona that they portray, but that's the persona they are fearing of - people thinking for themselves. That's what the persona of Satan was when those 12 stupid crazy, trippin' motherfuckers sat down to write the control of the world. They had to make this Satan persona so people wouldn't think for themselves. If that's what they're telling everybody it is, then we have to use it to our ability, you know? We have to exploit their stupidity. We're trying to put it how it's supposed to be, not how they portrayed it.
MU: Is that the background the members of Dimmu Borgir come from? Christian homes? Christian families?
A: Yeah, man, it's totally fucked. It's like bible belt everywhere.
MU: Do a lot of people go to church?
A: Yeah, of course. As kids we used to fuckin' get kicked out of bed at 6 O 'clock in the morning to do that shit. But, you know, you go through the transition. When you're young you just go there every time, you think that' s what it's all about and everything's cool. And when you start thinking - oh fuck, you can think for yourself, you can get through by yourself, and you don't need faith in somebody else to get you through the day - then you get pissed. You feel hatred. You feel like you've been ripped off. You feel like you've been lured into something. It's like, why didn't you just give us the choice? And we don't have the first amendment either, so it's even more fucked for us. Even if we want to speak our own opinion, we are not allowed. Our president is a priest. So, basically, we're not out to kill Christians. We had the hatred when we were young, but now we've totally forgotten about the hatred. We're more mature, like, there's no point in letting other people get you upset because that's just putting you in a mood that is really bad to be in. If you feel hatred or you are in a bad mood, it makes your energy fucked.
MU: Is it fair to say that Dimmu Borgir came from an angry place in the beginning?
A: Yeah, of course, that's what it's about.
MU: Are you still coming from an angry place?
A: No. That's the thing. We've found our space. We've found our Spiritual Black Dimension. That was the whole point. You know, we've had that title for the new album around for a long time. We're fucking 21 years old, man. We've been doing this since we were 16. When we were young we were rehearsing in small rehearsal spaces never even thinking about playing a show - just having fun - but still wearing spikes and makeup because that's how it is. It was just a way to get our aggression out instead of going and killing them. We had to use the outlet that they gave us. Right now we are not angry any more. We know that we have our own outlet, our own life, our own gods. We know that it's got a lot to do with our energies and how we portray that. We don't care about anything else except for what we do. And that's just getting another opinion out to the world - that Satan doesn't mean burning in hell forever.
MU: Where did the makeup and the spikes come from originally? What influenced that?
A: I think it had to do with our mythology before the Christians came. There's a thing called berserk - which doesn't mean berserk in English - that would be when the Vikings went on their rages. Vikings went on their rages, man, they would take mushrooms and trip off their head. They would paint themselves in the exact same way. They would have the black on their eyes. They would have the spikes. It's like any other animal in the kingdom - you've got to show that you're not going to be fucked with. It was a lot to do with school and shit - the whole mythology - we were into it. We know it back to front. That's how we express ourselves because that 's where we come from. How does a turtle know to run to water? It's the same kind of thing.
MU: And you combined that with heavy metal.
A: Yeah. For some reason when we felt like putting out our aggression that just seemed to be how we liked to do it. We never thought about going to a record company or making albums. It wasn't on the brain. It was just, let' s get together and zzzzzzzzzzttt! That was just our way to keep sane.
MU: When did musicianship come into play?
A: I think it was when we left school and we decided that that's what we did want to do and we did want to get our opinion across to other people. We didn't want to work this 9 to 5 job - and not because of money or anything - it was just against what we wanted to do. Basically we just kept doing what we were doing from the start, but now we're just able to make a living from it. We still live hard, you know, it's not easy to make money in this business and it's not about that. We feel good for ourselves because we can say we've been all over the world. After this tour we go to Asia and Australia and we've done every country. That's cool to say - that at least we've put our opinion in every country. That was the main goal.
MU: What was the musical influence when you were getting started?
A: Metal. It's just metal in the whole thing. It's the whole atmosphere. It's not a particular band. You know, we were at school like, "listen to this, man, fuck!" It could have been Twisted Sister or anything. It was just something that really got us in the heart. Just really felt good, you know?
MU: What about your music is going to hit home to the metalheads that haven 't discovered Dimmu Borgir?
A: It's a surprise. I think a lot of people would be surprised because most people see us first or hear about us first before they give us a chance. We're just going for the extreme end of what we are trying to do. Not because we have to. Its just because that's how it is. What we play is so a million percent positive to us, but to everyone else it's like, "why do you wear black - it's so negative." To us that's what positive is. So if we think this side is positive, we take it to the extreme. So I think we found that loving something is respecting it for what it is and loving it for what it is. Not telling it what to do. That's the whole thing with metal. We just respected that for what it was - not to try to better it, not to try to put our influence on it - we just loved it that much it went to the extreme.
MU: There are metalheads out there who don't care about the makeup and don' t care about the message - is there something in Dimmu Borgir for them?
A: Yeah, of course. There's people out there who are musicians or people who just like the music and everything else they don't care about, but still subconsciously they're getting it in there. There's no way that you can just listen to our music and not care what it's about. Maybe they don't care, but subconsciously they wouldn't be watching us or listening to us if they didn't care. That's my opinion.
MU: You've gotten some attention as a guitarist even outside of black metal circles.
A: Yeah, I suppose. I've really worked on it. I've always been sitting at home practicing scales. That's all I've done. I've never had a job. I just wanted to play guitar all day. The first couple years I just practiced hard on doing my shit. Then, when we were sitting in the studio doing the mini CD before the new one, I thought maybe it's time to put a couple of solos in here. I tried it out and it worked. I think it was cool to add that concept to black metal because that's taboo in black metal. I get a lot of shit from other players and stuff, but that's how I want to express myself. Whether I am good or not is another thing, but it doesn't really matter as long as I think the notes I pick is what I feel.
MU: You have to give Dimmu Borgir credit for breaking new ground.
A: If your life hasn't moved anywhere you are going to write the same ten albums, but we're so busy we're experiencing shit every day. We're learning all the time. We're just high on learning all the time. So I think that's why we can add new influences because life does progress.
MU: What has being on Nuclear Blast done for you?
A: We've done three releases with them now. We didn't expect this, you know? It was a chance to get distribution, and they've helped us out a lot. They've been good to us. They've supported us. For their reasons - whatever it is I don't give a fuck - they've helped us out and we wouldn't be where we are if it wasn't for them. We've got a really good relationship because we respect each other. They're the best independent label I've seen in the last couple years.
MU: Have you seen sales increase dramatically?
A: The album before we signed to Nuclear Blast was probably about 20,000 - the first album we did with Nuclear Blast was about 150,000 and this album is up to 200,000.
MU: Even if it's not about the money, at least you don't have to hold down a day job.
A: Yes. We can rehearse five days a week. We can put every energy and every bit of our time into that. We're happy to be able to put 100% into it and that's the reason we've been able to become better musicians. We've been able to have the time to play guitars eight hours a day or whatever. We've had to sell our CDs and videos, and do interviews, but it doesn't matter as long as we are able to get by and still put 100% into our music.
MU: The sound continues to grow.
A: The sound is getting bigger every time, man. I think it has been good to work with Peter (Tatgren) for the last three times in the same studio. The music just keeps getting wider. The picture - the sound picture - it keeps getting wider, and we keep breaking new ground in black metal sound. There's a lot of bands who sound good, but I think we have a couple of the best sounding black metal albums out. We do have a very good quality, but that is also because we did spend a lot of time in bad studios. We all have studios at home and we just learn how to do it. It's all about learning - that's what we're about. If you go through a day without learning something you feel bad.
MU: What is Peter's role when you go into the studio with him?
A: Basically, I tell him how I want my guitar to sound and he gets it. When it comes to mixing the levels it's all us. He does nothing with the music. We've been friends with him for a long time. You want the kick drum to sound like this - wait five seconds - its there. He's the guy that works best with us in sound. With my solos, me and Peter work a lot together. I kick everyone out of the studio. It's just me and Pete. He'll give me a lot of ideas, but I think he's very important because... You know, if it's 9 O' clock in the morning, like, "Fuck, man, I don't know if I can pull this lead off." He's like, "No, fuckin' you can, you can do it." And you do it. I think he's a good friend. He's a good supporter, and I think that's a lot of the reason behind it. It's not because he's a great sound engineer. It' s because he's not just sitting there doing it like a job. He's into it. He's there to give you the kick up the ass when you need it.
MU: Dimmu Borgir keeps getting bigger - this is the first U.S. tour.
A: Yeah. Today is our third gig ever. We've played two gigs in America before and that was both in New Jersey, and for some reason we've only played five songs each time.
MU: What was the problem at the March Metal Meltdown in New Jersey?
A: What our contract said we would have to play the show - when we got here only half of it was here. And everything was running an hour late. Somebody knocked over our guitar racks after Hypocrisy finished. Basically nothing was working right. But with the band that we are, we went out there and gave our best for the five songs that we played. We were just disappointed that we couldn't come and just go BOOM (makes the sound of an explosion) - an hour of kill - because that's how we normally are. We're tight. We practice all the time. If anything goes wrong we're just disappointed because we didn't get to share the whole opinion. And we played New Jersey yesterday and fucking everything went wrong. We only got to play five songs again. We had seven bands playing which is ridiculous, and we were playing last actually. I think we're just cursed in New Jersey. But we're really looking forward to this tour because we really want to come over here and bang stamp in that black metal is not just wish-wash crazy shit. There is importance there, there's musicianship there and we can play well.
MU: Is the U.S. crowd different than your European crowd?
A: Yesterday was different. I think we had three or four hundred people. They were going fucking crazy. I was playing guitar and seeing guys punch people in the head - running around in circles. In Europe the only gigs you get that is if you go into Nazi gigs. We're totally against Nazism anyway. I didn't mean to bring that up, but that's the only time we've seen that shit. Cunts just running around in circles beating cunts up. For us - the energy they gave - it was like "yeah, cool" because we haven't seen that much before. In Europe we get big crowds and they mosh a lot, but they're just bangin'. It was very violent yesterday.
MU: What's the next step for Dimmu Borgir?
A: We go in the studio January and February. We come back to the states next year. We're doing a few summer festivals here.
MU: You're going to crank out a new studio album by Spring 2000?
A: Yeah, and when we go to Australia, I think we are going to record a live EP. We've got a new drummer now who is Nicholas Barker. We want to put a live EP out with him because you listen to the album and you hear us play tonight and it's ten million times better. It's cuz he's a different drummer and he just suits perfect to the way we're playing. He was playing with musicians before that he wasn't happy with and we were playing with a drummer before that we weren't happy with. We've known each other for four or five years, and we've always been good friends between bands. We just made the switch and now everything's perfect.
MU: And you'll be back here next year.
A: We'll do a really good headline tour. For us, we've never been here before - we've got to crawl before we can walk. It's a new market here. This time we thought we'd bring Samael with us here, get a couple of death metal bands and do a really hard club circuit. We want to know what to do - what not to do. We're going to play every show like it's a million people watching. We just think it's important to do a good underground stamp tour, come back next year - move up the venues - and have another couple of good bands. Do it properly, you know?
MU: One step at a time.
A: Yeah, that's how it is. Our goals are very short term. We've been very successful at doing that. In Europe we just did like that, so why not do the same here. You know, we worked for three years in Europe. I remember we were playing festivals at 12 O'clock in the daytime to ten people, and two days ago we played a festival in Amsterdam to 40,000 people at 1 O'clock at night headlining. So you got to take the steps, man. Yeah, just two days ago we played to 40,000 people and made probably fuckin' $20,000, and we play here tonight probably for 100 and make $50. That doesn't phase us, dude. It's a new place - it's a new market - we have to crawl first. That' s how it's gonna be done.
MU: Are Vortex and Nick permanent members? Is this a solid lineup?
A: Yeah, man, we've been looking for this for about three years. We played New Jersey - Asbury Park - and on the plane on the way home we fired Tjodalv and Nick was waiting at the airport when we got home. Practiced two days. Went on tour. He's a permanent member. Vortex is a permanent member. Everything looks cool now.
MU: Anything else you want to say to the Metal Update readers?
A: Just look at our opinion and just have a look at what's around you. Really look around you and see where you're living. You get through it. You don't need no one else to help you. Sometimes shit's bad and you want to kill yourself and all that shit, but if you really take time out for yourself you get through it. That's how it is. Metal will help you.
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Interview: Brant Wintersteen [ firstname.lastname@example.org ]
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Photography: Brant Wintersteen
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