GROMTH – Part II: …we are actually living from the moment we start to breathe
This September will see the release of one of the most important albums of 2011 and one of the most important orchestral/symphonic metal releases of all time: Gromth‘s "The Immortal". Sitting in front of my Computer in Germany, I have provoked the band to answer questions on the intricate lyrics and the complex creative process of this unique album. Read on to delve deeply into the world of the Destroyer! All replies by Roy Kristensen, except where notifed.
Gromth have been working on "The Immortal" for two years and you wrote the concept and the lyrics. How did your collaboration come about? At which point in time have you entered the process?
We began to talk about this already back in 2007, but things were running slowly due to computer breakdowns and whatnot. The idea was there all the time from the beginning, and Gromth’s Grimd wrote four tracks, which were supposed to make part 2 of the 4-part concept. But in the end it became one album, one part (thus far). So yes, I was there from the beginning even though I’ve never had anything to do with the music, aside from the fact that Grimd and I shared musical preferences.
Gromth state that "The music makes the concept come to life the same way the concept makes the music come to life." How did you achieve the intense communication between yourself and the musician in order to achieve this? What was there first, the music or the concept?
Well, I’ve had the concept in mind in many years. At least the beginning and the end of it all. But Grimd has had musical ideas for quite some time as well, so it was probably just a question of who said A and who said B. And when the other guys came into the picture, the whole thing evolved faster and faster until everything was written and recorded by the end of April 2011. We did talk about the music and the concept on and off throughout these four years and the concept kind of demanded big music, if you see what I mean. But I also think the music demanded big thoughts. "The Immortal" is a big album, yet with the more silent parts that are necessary to give the journey a dynamic feeling. Do also note that I’ve been friends with André Aaslie since 1991, and the rest of the wild bunch for some 8-10 years now.
The concept reads as if it is highly thought-through, rather than "from the gut". Would you agree? What was your creative process?
The story is not "from the gut". It is simply my view on the negative aspects of humanity, being summed up within these words. Wouldn’t work with "then she took her baby to the kindergarten, she fed her with mother’s milk, the little child smiled at her and they had a nice walk towards the kindergarten", or something… No flowers either. I was simply trying to make a story that floats somehow, where I knew the beginning and the end. And didn’t stress it, but I gave it a lot of thought. I had the choice of writing a complex story or a more simple story with easier words. I chose the latter, but it is a metaphoric story, no doubt, even though things seem simple on the surface of what’s left of the earth (ha ha).
I cannot help but think that the concept would very well fit a piece written for theatre. What were your inspirations in terms of your style?
We talked about keeping it simple. In the beginning there were verses and refrains, but once the music developed into a whole piece rather than some 10-12 different tracks, we skipped this thought. There are a couple of sections that are repeated, but when all comes down to it, "The Immortal" is one lengthy song. Fitting for theatre? I don’t really think so, because there is no dynamics inside the concept. It’s all about total darkness and the complete downfall of everything. There is no light to alternate the darkness. And wouldn’t that be boring to the spectators? There were no real inspiration technically speaking, but I tried to keep it quite similar in style the whole nine yards. Not having one really long sentence followed by one very short, but more of the same through each chapter.
What were your inspirations for the content? Contemporary writers of literature or music, elder ones? Or did you try to shut yourself off from outside influence?
When I write something, it’s basically not inspired by anything. These are thoughts going on inside my mind. However, there are a couple of bands that have guided me more than anything else, without me copying them. Devil Doll and Deathspell Omega write in ways not unfamiliar to the writing on "The Immortal". The whole things moves forward and on, till the end. But I don’t think you sit there in Germany, thinking that this part was akin to that of Devil Doll or Deathspell Omega. My main inspiration was, and still is, my view upon the "negative" aspects of humankind. You know, in the end we all die!
I find some allusions to contemporary religions in the text, for example in the first sentence, you mention "Jehovah", would you try to describe what Jehovah specifically means to you?
Jehovah is humankind’s way of describing the creator of our world. They look upon him as a man. Strange, don’t you think, since The Bible and most other religious writings are penned by men, hah! To me Jehovah means absolutely nothing. I don’t believe in any sort of divinity. The reason I write that first sentence, is due to the priests trying to bring forth a demon they can control, but their belief fails them and what is on the rising is something that is therefore unknown to their Jehovah. The first track is written from a third person’s point of view, while the rest is based on the "I" angle.
In what way is the "Destroyer", the main protagonist of the concept superior to Jehovah?
What do you think the Destroyer Of Worlds is? To tell you the truth, it can be more than one thing. A demon in the story, yes. But below the surface, the Destroyer is also humanity, a single person, death, life, evil, darkness… And not only that, but also nature striking back on humankind, or even the symbolic end of the human chapter. Feel free to choose what suits you the most.
In "The Everlasting God", the Destroyer visits his higher authority to ask him for guidance, the Everlasting God then more or less dictates him his fate. How is the everlasting God different from Jehovah?
This deals with the concept of life versus death. What The Everlasting God really does, is to remind the Destroyer of what he is. You know, nothing lasts forever, they say. And what I try to tell is, if you want it to be like that, that you must choose who you really are, when you know all the facts. The Everlasting God gives the Destroyer a reminder of who he is, and what his purpose is. There is this saying that all empires must fall. And you could view this in a religious aspect, that also God’s empire must fall. If we concentrate on our own world, the Christian Church seems to loose followers every single day (judging by numbers). They still have a way too strong grip on the poor people, those areas where poverty and lack of education is high. You can also view this as a son’s talk with his father. Not in a Jesus versus God kind of way, but more like what happens all around the globe every say, where people ponders on the meaning of life, on what they really are and so on. The Everlasting God is not Jehovah or Satan or anything like that. It is more like the balance in life. And due to the unbalance in our world, the Destroyer has come to set things right. Or wrong if you will.
Do you personally believe in fate or destiny?
No. What happens happens. There’s no way around it, no escape. There’s life. And finally there’s death! Find your own meaning, blah blah blah… But sometimes I really wish I could believe in a God or whatsoever, because it must be sort of comforting to "know" that there’s more to the end of life than death.
Grimd: No, I believe everything is random. It’s a coincidence that there even exists life on our planet. But at the same time it’s not too big a coincidence that there is life on one planet, or more, in the universe, which I am certain of. It’s like winning the lotto. Most people believe it’s impossible to get the prize, but every week several people win. Everything is random. Sometimes you hit bull’s eye, and then many people like to believe it’s destiny or faith. For me destiny or faith is like being a piece in a game of chess; it doesn’t matter what you do for yourself, because the stage already is set. It means that there is a greater force that decides for you. To me that’s absurd. I believe that you can set your own stage and make your own choices, and that the people you meet are because of the choices you made, and the rest is coincidence.
For me faith and destiny does not exist.
The only true adversaries the Destroyer encounters are infants because they are fearless. Maybe innocent? What do you think corrupts the human when growing up and becoming and adult? Why would fearlessness prevent the death at the hands of the Destroyer?
This is basically a view on the Western society, where people fear everything. We fear what we cannot see, we fear those unfamiliar to us, we live life in fear of something bad to happen; in life, at work. I mean, look at all those saying you have to eat this, do that, have sex so many times pr. month, low-carbo, high-carbo… Not to forget the Church which is all based on fear and command(ment)s. C’mon; You shall have no other gods before me. What kind of egocentric shit is that? And those commandments based on what you cannot do? Sounds like the Church fucks you in the ass! I think people’s complete lack of self-confidence and lack of ability to think with the gut, is what corrupts us the most. Then you of course have school, education and those ten thousands rules and laws and whatnot. You must not… – the worst thing ever. And not to forget materialism. You must own more than your neighbour…
What was your goal in writing this concept? Why did you feel the need to express yourself in this way?
I’ve been writing this and that since the early 90s, and writing lyrics is one of those writings. You know, interviews, reviews, poems. Oh, I remember those days, where we wrote letters to each others. I got letters from Euronymous, Varg Vikernes, Mika Luttinen, Mortiis (when he was in Emperor) and so on… I may even have those letters somewhere in my pile of old-schoolism. However, when it came to the concept, it was simply something I had in mind for quite some time. And as said previously, it is simply my view on humanity, on what society would refer to as the negative aspects of our kin. It’s quite strange, but I don’t need any sort of feedback to my writings. I just write! Yes, as it says in the Nike commercial: "Just Do It!". And I do. It’s nice with feedback of sorts, but it’s not a necessity. I may sound egocentric here, but after all, I have to live with myself 24 hours day in, day out. So, I simply do as I please!
The whole piece reads as an exaltation of death and destruction, what do you find appealing about them?
Yes, it can be viewed that way. But it’s not about my fascination for anything, actually. I mean, we live. Then we die. The concept is basically that. The Destroyer lives. Then he dies! And after that: nothingness! I do think though that a concept about the darker aspects of humanity is one more fitting to the world of extreme metal. I could write about love and poetry, but I wait until Rihanna or Beyonce contact me.
One passage especially struck a chord with me: "I watched without emotion, as the mother murdered her child, I saw the water on her chin, and felt some thing I’d never felt before …ecstasy…"
I am somewhat ashamed to admit it, but I felt it too, the idea of the triumph of death is truly exalting. Why would the Destroyer feel ecstasy while witnessing and causing the truly terrifying murder of an innocent infant? Why would I feel it, or you?
This deals with the struggles in life. If you want to do something, but you find it hard or may even realize it is mission impossible, then when you finally manage you most likely feel ecstasy. In the story itself, the Destroyer is only about death and destruction, so when he doesn’t manage to destroy by his own hands, he guides someone else. In this case the mother of a child. These lines are also dealing with humanity and what we do to each other. I mean, you have wars, rapes, killing, mass murders, poverty, injustice and so on… Torture! But the worst thing we can imagine, when it comes to single humans, is probably a parent killing his/her own child. And it’s even worse when it is the child’s mother. It is also about the rapidly increasing lack of innocence in our world. Yes, when you look around there is less innocence. And by killing innocence, what is left? I don’t know and I also think this is one of the major aspects of humanity taking further steps down the ladder!
Would you deem this another step towards total counter-morality, the condoning of infant-murder?
Well, it seems like it. At least in the so-called third world. When we read stories about one tribe fighting another and all they do to each other, I’m not sure where we’re heading. In order to win, they rape the children, make the mothers pregnant with children from other tribes, amputations of the worst kind, burning, torturing. Let no infant survive to revenge the family. In our Western world we are more civilized. We do not hurt so many physically speaking, but what about the minds of the youngsters? Due to materialism and the already mentioned hunger to have more than thy neighbour, children are force fed with Hello Kitty, Harry Potter, Bratz and whatnot. When a four year girl dresses sexy, in a way that should be only natural to those who are mature enough to decide on their own, where are we really heading? Not that I think four year young girls are sexy, but I guess you see what I mean… I’m not sure where we’re heading, really. The signs are not good, methinks.
Is this provocation? Where lies the appeal?
I guess you refer to the lines in the former question. And no, no provocation. It’s just a description of the worst thing a parent can do to a child. That it is the Destroyer who guides her, is also symbolic. It is about how society makes people do awful things to each other. An example is envy and how people relate to this. You know, if you have something I want, then I just kill you and take it. Society tells you to get this, get that and so on, and due to especially greed people kill or trick or bully others to get what they want themselves…
Would you think that anyone can enjoy your work? Or is it written with for a specific type of person in mind, or any person at all?
As I said previously, this is basically my view upon the darker aspects of our world and is not directed towards any person or group of people. I don’t really think anyone can enjoy my work, since there is absolutely no sign of positivity and hope inside the concept of "The Immortal".
The whole journey of the Destroyer reads like a path to initiation or maybe life itself? First he is summoned, then slowly he realizes his purpose and fulfils it to the bitter end. Is this a rebellion against (divine) authority or its fulfilment?
Yes, you’re onto it. But is it not sad that the Destroyer don’t rule his own destiny? That he has to go to The Everlasting God to get some guidance? Then again, some say that wise people listen to others, learn from them and assimilate. I don’t consider it as any sort of rebellion. There are hints earlier in the story that the Destroyer’s mission is do destroy everything! Therein lies his mission. But he grew too strong for The Everlasting God. As in, the student becomes stronger than the master!
Throughout the years, the ideas of chaos, death and destruction have been formulated ever more specifically within extreme metal, most explicitly in Black Metal. What about our modern experience of life and society do you think has influenced this development?
To be completely Roy with you, looking in retrospect I tend to think that those were young people who had a desire to go more extreme, and with extreme music there were extreme lyrics. And from extreme thoughts there’s a short line to extreme actions. Somehow I think those were outsiders, outcasts if you will, people who didn’t belong. They looked at other people and saw that other people had what they didn’t, so they went from rebelling against the local society to rebelling against the whole society. It was probably their desire to live the difference that influenced the development. And once the ball started to roll, there was no way back until it resulted into murder and prison! Look at Norway. We have everything, if we want to, but that’s not enough. So, since our country is one of the wealthiest and kind of safe countries in the world, chaos in inevitable due to balance. There has to be balance…
Some authors have wondered why Norway especially has been on the forefront of this misanthropic style of art. It has been postulated that Black Metal is an extreme form of rebellion against the ordered social-democrat lifestyle in Norway, that the climate is a cause for this art form or that it is a form of atavism. Do you find these explanations sufficient? What would yours be?
I think it has to do with youths having no direction in life. There’s really not much to fight against or for in our oil-driven society. So, I guess they took their personal problems or struggles, and thought that downtuned guitars and high-pitched screams were the solution. And when a group of young people gather, having nothing to do and little money to back it up with, they drink, become angry on whatever and well… Read Lord Of Chaos or something else to know the rest of the story. If they really wanted to fight the ordered social-democrat lifestyle in Norway, I don’t think burning churches and killing each other and play black metal would be a solution at all. I mean, in the long run this wouldn’t change anything aside from the selling-points connected to Mayhem, Burzum, Emperor and other Norwegian bands’ products.
How does the idea of freedom correlate with the concept of chaos or death?
Does it? I don’t know… I can’t really see how chaos or death is freedom. If one thinks that anarchy is freedom, then chaos is freedom, yes. But do we really want anarchy? I mean, personally speaking I know I wouldn’t go amok if all rules were wiped off Berlusconi’s ass, but I suppose I would have to defend myself since others would go amok. And I’m not speaking of the mass-murder in Norway 22nd of July style, but your neighbour could easily be your new enemy, if he wasn’t already. Death is just freedom from life. I don’t think we should fear or embrace it. It is just there, at the end… And only those who’ve died know what eventually happens. I don’t give a shit about that now. I live. And I live in freedom. I select my job consciously. I choose which music I listen to when I want to (most of the time, aside from reviewing). I read what I want to read. I eat what I want to eat (and can afford). I have no urge to really challenge society’s rules, simply because my fight is mostly within myself and how I shall develop.
Yes, egoism on a high level. This is of course not something everybody can do, since so incredibly many only have one aim in life; namely to survive the next day. Take this child in Somalia. He lives in surroundings of chaos and death, and has no food. How does that include any freedom at all?
How does the misanthropy of the piece relate to your own personal life experience?
I guess you refer to the misanthropy of "The Immortal". It doesn’t have much to do with my personal life. I don’t like humans that much in general. They are just there doing their things as I do mine, and every day my life corresponds with theirs. But humans are not much of a problem to me either, since I’m able to choose whom to spend time with. At my job, well… Many good people there, luckily. And I do get money to spend time with them, so I’ll survive. Do notice that "The Immortal" is more like an observation of humanity than my personal misanthropy, or lack of it.
Why would humanity deserve to die? Does the Destroyer act according to some form of (anti)-morality?
This depend on the angle. If you look upon it from Nature’s point of view, I’m dead sure She would love humanity to be wiped off this earth in a swift. If you look upon it from people living on warzones’ point of view, I’m sure they at least want all Americans to die. All humans are dying. We are actually dying from the moment we start to live. Some say that offspring are the meaning of life… Well, that may be. Then there’s a lot of meaning in our world. I don’t know… I don’t think a child in Somalia or Afghanistan feels that the meaning of life is to be born in an area where fear and death is more or less all life is about, generally speaking.
Morals? Aren’t these just Christian values, speaking of our western society… I mean, I don’t murder or steal, but it has nothing to do with Christian morals or commandments. It has to do with the fact that I don’t see the necessity in those doings unless I really have to. And I don’t have to. The Destroyer acts the way it does because it has to. It’s the purpose of such a being. But why must it? Well, why do humans do the things they do… Is it conscious actions or just coincidences based on linear happenings? As said previously, the Destroyer can be a metaphor for many things.
Finally, the music brings many different styles together in an absolutely unique way. Gromth have been working on the album for two years. In a way, in itself, it is a celebration of death. Why would the band devote this much energy to this creation as an act of worship of destruction. Don’t you find this paradoxical?
Let me first say that the music and the lyrics are written in separate homes. So, the music is a celebration of complexity in extreme metal, in this case orchestral extreme metal. The lyrics are, as already stated, more a story with different interpretations if you feel like it. But in order to create, some claim that you must destroy, hah… Seriously, this is not paradoxical in my opinion. We’ve been talking about both music and lyrics along the path to destruction, but still we’ve worked separately. Is it a coincidence that both words melt together in such a fine way? Perhaps, though I like to think not. We’ve known each other for many years, so you can say that it is a combination of our musical tastes, our thematic approach and a few beers.
Photos by: Wenche Munkelien
Images by: Kjell Ivar Lund (www.kjellivarlund.com)