ICS VORTEX – From Kiss to Arcturus and Borknagar

ICS VORTEX – From Kiss to Arcturus and Borknagar

(…this article is in English…)

I.C.S. Vortex, or just simply Vortex, known as the current vocalist of avant-garde metal band Arcturus, vocalist and bass guitarist of Borknagar, and the former bass guitarist and previously backing vocalist for the Norwegian symphonic black metal band Dimmu Borgir, has recently come out with a solo release under the name ICS Vortex. The album title is Storm Seeker and it was released through Century Media Records in 2011. Now, at the end of 2012, Vortex paired up with Susperia and Rendezvous Point for a Norwegian tour meant to familiarise the audience with his new material, and also to remind them of some older ones.
Prior to the concert in Oslo, I sat down with Simen (aka Vortex) and chatted about his start in the musical life, his various projects, his solo album and his impression on today’s kids in music. Below is the transcription of our dialogue.


You’ve been in this music industry now for many years now, close to twenty…plus/minus

Yea, plus/minus, I’m thinking 98 was the debut actually with the Borknagar’s ‘The Archaic Course’ album. Of course, I’ve been into music before that, but that’s when it got serious and got where I wanted to be – recording albums and playing live shows.

How did it all start?

It started with Kiss cards from candy bags actually. Some countries have football cards and such, but we had Kiss cards back then and when you were a four year old and you saw satanic dudes posing with their instruments, you just knew that this was something serious. So I wanted to be Peter Criss and later I wanted to be Gene Simmons or Ace Frehley. And now I don’t want to be anyone, but that’s another story.

And then, after the cards, it went on with vinyls or cassettes or?

First cassette that I bought was Kiss. It was during my second grade and the album was ‘Hotter than Hell’. All through the early years in school in was about Kiss and then it developed into WASP and Iron Maiden and all the usual stuff. Sounds familiar?

Yea, sounds like a regular childhood.

I started playing guitar at the age of 14.

Was there any music education involved or just listen and learn?

My father taught me the basic stuff and the rest I kinda made up along the way by listening to records and by playing 8 hours every day.

And now, after all these years, you finally go solo. Was it a long term idea or?

It’s been there for many years. Some of the songs are really old, I think I wrote ‘Skoal!’ when I was 18. All the lyrics were written during a 6 months period of time or a bit longer. Let’s say the music was half written before 2009 and the other half between 2009 and 2010. It took some time to actually get it all together. But it was worth it and I learned a lot during the process. Hopefully I can use the teaching in the next ICS Vortex album which I hope to be out in 2013.

So you liked it so much that you’d happily go on with it.

Oh, I wanna go on for sure. It’s very inspiring to get a record out and I’m very happy with Century Media Records. I can only hope it will work again. But then, Arcturus will come out with new material in 2013, Borknagar has started writing new material, I’m also doing the God of Atheists project which will come out in 2013. But everything takes times. Then there’s also Lamented Souls project which is intended to have something out in 2013. But I’ve been saying that for the past 10 years anyway, so who knows if it’s gonna happen.

ICS VORTEX live @ Betong Oslo December 14, 2012
(Photo: Andrea Chirulescu)

Since you said you learned so much in the process, how much of the whole work is yours? Did you write all the instruments? Did you produce and mix it?

I didn’t master it. But I had the preproduction all finished when I showed it to the drummer, who came up with his own ideas about drum fills and such. I didn’t engineer it, I only started out with my own click tracks and all that in my studio. I exported all files and we just built it from there. It was originally meant to be mixed somewhere else, but it was such a long process and full of mistakes…I paid a lot of money for things that actually never made it on the record. Like for example, I paid the drummer 3000 Euros to do some drums, and I didn’t use a single hit. But now I have learned from my mistakes, I hope. If I’d be clever, I’d learn from others’ mistakes.

But all the other instruments were played by you? You haven’t used any of the guys that you’re playing live with?

Yes, I played the guitars, the bass and the keyboards. I had Terje from Susperia who did some guitar solo work on a couple of songs. I also had Arne Martinussen as a guest, doing some organ stuff on couple of songs. He just came to the studio and it was an amazing and quick experience. He’s a guy from a local band and he amazed me so I was really happy to have him working on those songs.

What’s your favorite bit on this album?

Storm Seeker.


I like the lyrics. I like all the lyrics actually. They’re personal and pretty straight forward, with some times when you have to read between the lines. It’s story telling pretty much. No picking up the coolest words in the dictionary.

Earlier you named a bunch of bands and projects you’re involved with. How does everything fit with your time and daily routines?

Yes, since they don’t pay my bills, they need to find their own place in between getting the kids from kindergarten and going to work. There’s a lot of stuff going on, but it’s a good hobby. I need music to be happy.

You don’t see yourself doing anything else?

I was hoping I’d get a fresh start after the Dimmu break up. You know, quit while I was on top. I tried, but I needed the music and I actually always knew that it’s not gonna work to do something else. So, music is my drug of choice and it all eventually works out.


Did you ever confuse songs among these projects you work with?

I confuse shit all the time.

Did you sing Arcturus lyrics with Borknagar for example?

No no, I’m not that distracted. But I do mix up lyrics all the time. I need to be more professional there. I actually need more time to rehearse.

Do you rely more on seriousness or enjoying what you’re doing and being able to be human and make such mistakes?

It all goes together I think. It’s a blend of being serious and fun at the same time. I don’t want to be pretentious or something like that since I hate it when metal becomes too serious in the way they express themselves on stage. Photo sessions, metal videos are good examples of how corny things can get, just repeating themselves all over again. But I’m mainly trying to be honest with the lyrics and to find riffs that grooves. That’s what I liked when I grew up with Black Sabbath and Kiss and all that. So, as long as it’s not overly pretentious, I’m cool with it. But I need my lyrics to be serious though. This is how I like to do things.

Do the lyrics make you move in a certain way? Like for example, you have quite a special dance during Arcturus shows…

Haha. It’s Sverd’s keyboards and everything mixed together. We have a really relaxed tone among the band members. We’ve known each other for so many years and did so much crazy shit in our rehearsing room, so, you know, you can’t really do anything wrong. It can get silly and probably many don’t like it. I would’t have liked it if I saw that on stage and I was in my black metal period, I’d say that this shit is not metal. And then you grow up.

But is Kiss metal with their tongues out and high heeled boots?

That’s what I thought when I was 4 anyway. I saw them on stage in 92 or so, with Peter Criss and I’m really happy for that. But it was with the smile on my face, not with the serious horns in the air. Kiss lyrics sucks, at least 99% of them.

Come on, they’re cheesy

Yea, they’re extremely cheesy. But I didn’t know that shit when I was young. That’s when you make your own versions. You know what they’re singing, but you interpret them in your own ways and later you realise it’s actually about something else.

ICS VORTEX live @ Betong Oslo December 14, 2012
(Photo: Andrea Chirulescu)

After so many years of being around in this business, what’s the same? What’s different? What’s shocking?

Nothing shocks me anymore. It was quite brutal when we were young and insecure and everyone was competing about being the most evil person. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m really happy we were young musicians back then and I’m really proud with the whole scene. I used to be a punk rocker for a while, but I’m happy we went to the most extreme side because after the black metal period, thing sort of got softer. Now I look at the kids and I see these emo kids walking around, thinking they’re cool and making me laugh. They’re cute but they don’t scare me. We scared people back then and that’s a good feeling when you are young and want to live on the edge. I love it, it was fantastic.

But from the point of view of equipment and such. There’s so many bands returning to the old techniques because they like the sound or they feel nostalgic…

Well, now you have these click tracks and auto tune and all that and an album is done in one, two days or a week, compared to, for example, Dimmu Borgir’s ‘Death Cult Armageddon’ that took two months in the studio. I like it better when it’s a bit more rock’n’roll or old school. I like live albums also, for capturing the moment and I’d like to release one, but there’s so much youtube stuff out there that it’s almost useless. Of course, the sound is not always of good quality, but still.
I look at the kids today and I was just a judge in a competition for the ‘Hostile territory’ festival in Stavanger. They have a battle of the bands thing and I saw 7 bands with kids from 13 to 18. Quite young kids and amazing musicians, all of them. All the bands were just amazing and they had aggressiveness and spontaneity and all the stuff that doesn’t come easy at all. They must have been practicing really hard. It was very inspirational to see these kids with synchronised headbanging and all, they surely knew how to present their music. We never thought about that when we were young. Today, they pick up everything.

So, I guess youtube helps.

For sure. You can call it youtube generation or whatever, but they get lessons straight into their home and they practice a lot so it’s gonna be fun to watch the next developments of the metal scene. It actually is interesting to watch it right now. It’s changing times, for sure, but you probably know that nobody sells records anymore. And that’s why the record companies will keep on holding to the bands that have been selling a lot in the past. It’s like their safe card. So it’s very hard to be a young talented band these days and to get your music out. The competition is way harder than it was back when we started.

Do you get a lot of requests for, let’s say, guidance, from young kids?

Yes, and I try to answer as many as I can as much as my limited time allows. Everytime I am on facebook and I am on the chat there’s like 50 people asking questions at once. So I do my best to answer because I know it can be hard as a musician, as I’ve already been there. I like to help out if possible.

ICS VORTEX live @ Betong Oslo December 14, 2012
(Photo: Andrea Chirulescu)

Is there any artist you’d like to work with but you didn’t have the chance yet?

One of my favorite bands is Virus but I don’t know…

You’d surely add some flavor to their shows, since, unfortunately, their singer cannot move nor dance and I personally like it so much when there’s a lot to watch on stage.

I could just close my eyes and listen to Virus live, I love it that much. But I also like the show part as well and like to do the makeup and the special stuff on stage. For Arcturus, that’s one of the things we want to concentrate on – to get a better stage show up and running. For this, we’re in contact with a guy who does lights for this psychedelic band, Hawkwind. They use a lot of weird stuff and I’d like to combine that, build on it and do some proper Arcturus stuff and put it in a concept for our future stage shows. I think Arcturus shows could benefit from that as I believe it’s always good fun to get both the visual and the music to work.

What’s the oddest stage you played on?

We (Dimmu Borgir) played in the back of a truck in Texas and drank a whole bottle of Jack Daniels while doing it. I was without makeup. I can’t remember much of the concert but I saw a clip afterwards and that’s how I remember bits of it, But yea, this one was pretty special. We also played in record shops and in gym halls with really bad acoustics, played at school and stuff like that.