ANAAL NATHRAKH – Blastfest Special
Bergen is known for its metal history, with several of the most popular black metal bands in Norway coming from there. In addition, Bergen has been the home of Hole in the Sky – one of the most popular underground festivals in Europe – for several years. Hole in the Sky ended its activities a few years ago, with the much smaller Beyond the Gates festival taking over. Blastfest is a brand new festival that has the intention of putting Bergen back on the metal map.
Do you have any memories about bands, gigs or festivals from Bergen that you want to share with our readers?
Yes, we played at the Hole in the Sky festival a few years ago, and we had a superb time. Bergen is one of the most beautiful places you could wish to visit, and there was a staircase up to the roof of the building we were staying at. So we went up and had a fantastic view of the mountains, the waterfront, the centre of the city. We were there a day in advance, so we were able to go and watch our friends in Napalm Death playing on the night we arrived, and then on the day of our show, two things happened that stuck in my memory. One, our show went well overall despite the fact that our drummer was still new at the time and was a bit unsure of some of the songs – we actually had to start one of them several times, and I had to shout the starting riff to him over the kit, haha! That doesn’t happpen any more, of course. It was quite a while ago. And two, the Mayhem show. Attila dressed up as a mummy, and then proceeded to have a picnic on stage during the set. Complete with a table and chairs, a newspaper, a cup of coffee, and for a few minutes in the middle, an interview for which the show stopped and the PA was silent. One of the most bizarre shows I’ve ever seen.
How important is it for a cultural city like Bergen to have at least two decent-sized metal festivals.
Really you’d have to ask people from Bergen. But I think it can really only be a good thing for them. The cultural life of a society is often underestimated, especially in tough economic times such as now. For example the UK government has cut arts funding despite the fact that the film industry here, for example, is a considerable net economic contributor. Aside from simply giving local people something to do, significant cultural events give people an opportunity for expression and help create a sense of place and community. Those things are conducive to flourishing.
The festival season used to be in the summer and bands could spend the rest of the year writing new songs and recording a new album and maybe go on a tour. In recent years, the season is extended and more or less takes place throughout the year. Much of the reason for this is the declining CD sales and the need for bands to play gigs and selling merch, trying to cover some of their expenses. How disturbing is this extension for the bands creative period?
I don’t think you’ve got the reason quite right – bands don’t decide to hold festivals because they need some cash. Promoters decide to hold festivals because they think that they can make some cash and because they want to do so for the fans and for themselves. They do that because they think people will turn up. Only then are bands in a position to play. So I can’t really see that bands making less money from CD sales nowadays is the core reason for there being more festivals. All of this is ultimately dependent on whether people want to go to the festivals, so I think the core reason is that people like festivals and want more of them, everything else is based on that fact. Take that away and festivals will fail and not get put on. But the schedule, well, we don’t really operate to a typical schedule, so it doesn’t really affect us. We write and record when the time feels right, pretty much regardless of anything else. For some other bands it may be a significant disruption, but you’d have to ask them. We’re recording an album at the same time as we’re rehearsing for Boltfest.
What is the most negative and positive aspects of this season extension?
Positive – there are more shows available to play and for people to go to, for example we get to go back to Bergen. Negative – it probably impacts the standard club show model to an extent. If there are festivals available quite frequently, then a normal bill for a club show can look a bit less inviting. But that’s debatable, and to be honest I haven’t seen much in the way of negative consequences. Much as I’m not a fan of the word, a ‘scene’ only exists insofar as something happens within it. More activity means a more vibrant scene, means more likelihood of decent music being made.
How do you think it will be like doing a festival in the north in February?
Personally I think it’s great, because I can’t stand hot weather. The first time I can remember arriving somewhere and thinking ‘this climate is perfect’ was Oslo in March. When we played in Rouyn Noranda in Canada about a year ago, it was around minus ten when I walked outside the hotel in the morning, and that was great. Plus, as long as it’s not pissing down with rain, I think the northern landscape looks particularly wonderful in winter. If you asked Mick you’d probably get a different answer – he lives in California, I don’t think he’s seen snow since last time he was here!
For years, black metal has been the pride of the Norwegian metal scene, but things have changed and bands like Leprous, Devil, Vulture Industries, Kvelertak and Obliteration are more popular outside the Norwegian border than the black metal bands. Do you have any thoughts on why this is happening?
I don’t know that they’re more popular – imagine a festival lineup with those bands and Immortal – who headlines? But in general I think it comes down to the fact that black metal has been popular for a long time. People like to argue about definitions, but most of what black metal is was established twenty years ago or more. It therefore seems only natural that people would look in other directions when they set out to make music, and that some of those people would produce good material and become successful. Black metal isn’t the only music in Norway, and nor should it be. That doesn’t mean it’s dead. And I don’t think you have bands like those with Black Metal having existed in the first place. They might sound like a product of punk or prog or crossover jazz or Devin Townsend worship or whatever, but they’re a product of BM just as much as anything else. I’ve never listened to them personally, but a quick look at Spotify shows that Kvelertak’s most popular song is Mjod – that sounds like a repackaging of Isengard more than Chaos UK or Discharge to me.
Anaal Nathrakh have been playing a few gigs here in Norway since your first gig in Oslo in 2007. It’s obviously you like it here and I remember from an interview we did earlier that you especially like Bergen. What is it with Norway and Bergen that you like so much?
Well with Bergen it’s mostly the setting, as I’ve already mentioned. It’s beautiful. And that’s true of the country as a whole as far as I’ve experienced it. Historic, dramatic, serene. I also like the fact that the population is much less dense than here. By comparison it feels like the world is more content to leave you alone. The clarity of the light and air, the sound of the language, there are numerous things. Plus of course I’ve had some excellent times in Norway. The weekend we had in Trondheim at the end of a string of dates earlier this year was a perfect example. It’s not some kind of weird love affair, there are other places I like as well, but Norway and Scandinavia in general have a lot to recommend them for my tastes.
The Anaal Nathrakh fans in Norway, are they any different from other Anaal Nathrakh fans?
They have a reputation for being a little quieter, but to be honest in our experience that hasn’t really been true, we’ve had some excellent reactions and met a lot of very enthusiastic people. I remember after our first show at Inferno, one guy came up to us saying he’s never seen a pit like that there – it was almost certainly a bit of hyperbole, but it shows the reaction was good. Last time we played there, I had one of the Metal Hammer writers telling me she’d been crying while we were one. Perfect review! The Norwegian relationship with black metal has an effect I think. Much as we’re hardly a typical black metal band, obviously we have a strong link with the genre, and in some places this kind of extreme stuff can feel almost like it’s simply tolerated rather than respected. Whereas in other places, and Norway is among them, there’s an assumed context that it’s a perfectly valid thing to do.
Annal Nathrakh started as a small underground band known to just a few fans outside the UK to become a successful metal band with thousands of fans all over the world. What have this done to you as a person?
Nothing, really. I suppose it has to do with what kind of person you are to begin with. I’ve noticed that people who clearly wish people respected them and gave them more attention can get a bit caught up if they do something that people recognise them for. But we’re not really like that, both of us are more concerned with doing whatever it is we’re doing than worrying about whether anyone notices us doing it. I’m pretty introverted really. There’s a minor contradiction there I suppose, in that at least one of the major things we do is being in a band, which by its nature attracts and requires attention, but you get the idea. We’ve all met people in middle management who are defined by their jobs and whose egos extend way beyond their justifications. But it has given us the opportunity to see places and do creative things that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do. So we appreciate that we’ve been privileged to achieve whatever success we have.
Your last album "Vanitas" is in my ears and eyes by far the most successful Anaal Nathrakh album so far and is one of the biggest reasons for the success. Does this give you any special pressure or expectations for the next album?
I don’t know that it’s our most successful by far, but the response has generally been very encouraging, yes. Epecially from fans or listeners, which is the most significant part. But no, not really, we don’t think about previous albums etc when we record new stuff. For me, I’m too wrapped up in the stuff involved in what I’m doing – the process itself, but more the ideas etc – this all involves things that are very important to me, and I don’t view them with much perspective. And Mick simply doesn’t pay much attention to what he’s done in the past, he’s more concerned with being creative, with making a new thing, with the possibilities of what he can do next. As long as he can look back at what we’ve done and say ‘Yeah, that’s ace’, he’s pretty much satisfied to move on. I think it’s healthier to just get on with it rather than think about any pressure implied by what you’ve done before. Otherwise you’re not putting your full concentration into what you’re doing, and it will be bound not to be as good as it could have been if you just forgot about everything else.
Is there anything else worth mentioning from the Anaal Nathrakh camp?
Well, I mentioned that we’re going to be recording around the time of our trip to Bergen. In fact that recording should be mostly finished by the time we get to the festival. There are other things, but they’re irrelevant. More hate, more desperation, more bile, and more music to express them. That’s all that really matters. Then getting shit faced and wondering where the hell you’ve been.