MISTUR – Distant Peaks and Songs of Remembrance
Mistur is, simply put, a dream come true for any lover of epic black/pagan metal. Their latest album, the one entitled "In Memoriam", blew me away the very first time I listened to it and it just keeps growing on me. It is one of those delightfully moody and bombastic albums that just won’t let go of you! Needless to say, Eternal Terror Live had to have a chat with Espen Bakketeig (vocals, keyboards) about the band in general, the latest album, and the source of inspiration that is history and the Viking Age. Before I forget, if you haven’t checked "In Memoriam" out yet, I strongly suggest that you get off your drunken ass ASAP and acquire a copy of it somehow. You won’t regret it. Trust me on that!
Hello Espen, how are you doing? Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. Tell us a bit about the early days of Mistur as well as how and why you started out playing extreme metal. How did you get into metal music in the first place? Could you briefly outline your band history for us and touch a bit on each of your releases?
E: Hello, I’m fine. Me and André grew up in a small place called Kaupanger in Sogndal. We have played a lot of different music together throughout the years, even long before Mistur was started. One of the projects that first comes to mind is our Nirvana cover band. That is definitely part of the foundation for the musical cooperation between us. When we were still kids, my brother Stian played guitar and was involved in bands like Windir and Ulcus Molle. So, we grew up with this music environment around us, and these influences, among others, got us into metal. We realized at one stage (about 2004…) that we both had composed some pieces of music and we introduced them to each other. These pieces were put together and the result was the song "Skoddefjellet". This song was created before the band got its name. André brought a guitar intro and I did my own version of Beethoven’s 7th symphony, and we arranged an old Norwegian folk tune as the last song. These four songs became the beginning of Mistur. We then realized that we had created a metal project. The demo was released in 2005. I think we created about 500 copies. We were actually only three members by then (me, André and Odne (from Sigtyr)). To release an album and do live shows we needed to get a full line-up. My brother Stian joined us and we had Bengt on drums. On bass we later on got Ole (now in Kampfar). At this stage we also had some pieces of music already created that would become part of "Attende". When "Attende" was released we got the chance to play live shows both in Norway and abroad, and that album got superb feedback in the metal scenes’ magazines. Top score in many places. This album led to the long awaited album "In Memoriam" seven years later. And here we are.
Tell us a bit about the other members of Mistur. Where did you all meet initially? Do you hang out in your spare time, away from Mistur, so to say, or is the band pretty much where you all meet and what you have in common?
E: During the years we have only changed members on vocal, drums and bass. The line-up today is Tomas Myklebust on drums, Espen Bakketeig on synth, vocal and some guitar, André Raunehaug on guitar, Stian Bakketeig on guitar, Bjarte Breilid on bass and Oliver Øien on vocal. Recently we parted with Ole, due to his involvement in Kampfar. We quickly replaced him with a local lad Bjarte, who has already done quite a few Mistur concerts as a stand-in bass player. Other than that we recently got Tomas Myklebust as a new drummer. He has done some stand-in jobs for Jørn in Vreid and a couple of us (me and André) have also played with him in Emancer earlier on. I think that is a good sum-up of the members.
Quite a few years passed between you starting out in 2003 and then releasing your album in 2009. There was the 2005 "Skoddefjellet" demo, of course. Was there any particular reason for not putting out an album before 2009?
E: Well, there are different reasons actually. The most important one is that we want things to be good. It takes time to compose this music. It needs to develop and it needs to be thought through. We don’t want to release some crap in a hurry. We find the music on "Attende" very attractive ourselves. Even though we are the ones creating the album, we also want to be able to sit down, have a whisky and listen to the music and think: "Damn this is good shit" J
Tying in with what I asked above, another seven years have passed between the release of "Attende" and your new album, "In Memoriam". When did you start writing and composing the songs for the latter?
E: The song "Downfall" was started on even before the release of "Attende". There are probably some other pieces as well that was thought of around that time that came to life again these last few years, so the music for "In Memoriam" has definitely been worked on for a while.
There is a longing and a melancholy to your songs, at least to my ears. "In Memoriam" as a whole is actually a very moving album. Very emotional stuff for sure. Would you say that it serves as an exorcism for you, or a catharsis of sorts?
E: Hehe, well, I don’t know about the exorcism or the catharsis stuff, but it does for sure feel very good to get all this music out. It is a relief and it is emotional, yes. But that is good music, isn’t it?
"In Memoriam" is also a varied and dynamic album. It has this unique atmosphere to it that I love. It makes me reflect on a lot of things. Where do you find the inspiration to compose and write music?
E: I think the inspiration is mainly all the music I appreciate out there, and for me the process is an escape from everything. It is a kind of freedom to be able to sit down and write the music exactly the way you want it. It is hard to say, but I’m inspired by a lot of things to create what I create.
I absolutely love the cover art. It is very ominous and atmospheric, and it certainly depicts tragedy and despair. Was that an original idea of yours or did you lay out the details and theme of the album to a painter who then interpreted your lyrics and based the painting on that?
E: Yes, the cover art is great. It was done by a very good painter and a friend of us, Bjarne Egge. The idea was simply to sum-up, as you mention, the atmosphere and the concept of the album, which I think it really does.
One of the things that I love about "In Memoriam" is that everything, i.e. the music, the lyrics, the song titles, and the cover art, seems to go hand in hand and belong to each other. Every part "enhances" the other, so to say. That German phrase "gesamtkunstwerk" comes to mind. Could you elaborate a bit on some of the thoughts that went into the creation of the whole package? It is not often that one comes across an album where everything binds together so perfectly.
E: First of all, I want to thank you for these kind words. It has been a good and long cooperation between me (songwriter), Oliver (lyrics) and Bjarne (cover art). I think this has resulted in that "gesamtkunstwerk", as you call it, but that is also an important element for an album. It needs a start and an end. And all in between needs to connect these parts, both musically, lyrically, and when it comes to the artwork. And we managed to do that with "In Memoriam".
Thematically speaking, Mistur seems to be rooted in times of old, folklore, solitude, memories, longing, your heritage, and a whole slew of other things. Could you elaborate a little on the importance of the lyrics? What do they mean to you on a personal level? Do they reflect your personal view of the world, so to say?
E: Yes, you are completely correct. The lyrics for "Attende" was done by us and Ivar Bruheim. For "Attende", it was based on many different fictional stories from the Viking age. And the themes are based on the same for "In Memoriam", but this time it is more connected where each story is one chapter, a concept album. The lyrics are important for the entire experience, but on a personal level they don’t actually reflect our view of the world, as you call it. We think it is important not to forget our ancestors. We kind of remind ourselves about our history by working with these fictional stories related back to the Viking Age. Another aspect when it comes to lyrics and vocal, is that we need to think of the vocal as an important instrument. It is planned in detail where to put the vocal or not and where to have what type of vocal. It needs to lift the musical experience even higher.
All of you are more or less involved in other bands and projects. Is it tough to balance these different things and make sure that there is sufficient time for everything? I can imagine that it must be quite stressful at times to make room for everything.
E: Yes, many of the members are and have been involved in a lot of bands. Stian is probably the one that is busiest at the moment with his role in Vreid. Every time we are asked to do a gig, we need to verify as quickly as possible the time schedule for the guys. Usually it works just fine.
As to labels, did you guys approach Dark Essence Records and earlier on Einheit Produktionen about releasing your stuff, or did they come to you?
E: Back in the days we approached Einheit to get the "Attende" album out on the marked. When it comes to "In Memoriam", the drums were recorded in Bjørnar’s Conclave and Earshot studios, and he is one of the main men in Dark Essence, so it became quite natural to agree on a cooperation for this release. And we are very satisfied with this cooperation so far!
Apart from promoting "In Memoriam", what are you guys currently up to in terms of band activities? Are you by any chance composing and writing new material these days or simply rehearsing for future live activities?
E: There are a couple of other focuses right now. We focus on rehearsal and other stuff in regards to this new release, but the break won’t be too long. The feedback from this album really gives inspiration and energy to go on and create new stuff. It won’t take seven years until the next release from Mistur J
How do you feel about performing live? What have your shows been like so far? Any shows that kind of stand out and that you associate with a lot of good memories? Speaking of which, how did your show at this year`s Inferno Festival go?
E: According to feedback and our own experiences, our live shows have just become better and better, and all of us love to go on stage together. We have a lot of energy and we feel we have a good connection to the audience. It feels damn good to present this material. Our shows this year at Blastfest in Bergen and Inferno in Oslo were no exceptions. The new material we presented worked perfectly live, and we basically needed just a couple of hours of rehearsal together to nail these new songs. That was a good feeling. It is hard to mention some that were better than others. We have done a lot of great gigs. We have played at festivals in Germany and we have played at the biggest black metal events here in Norway. There have been lots of great shows in our hometown. We got the chance to meet a lot of fans on the European tour in 2012, and the show in Paris for example was an amazing experience. Lots of good memories from all these shows.
Could you list some of your all-time favorite albums and what they mean (or once meant) to you?
E: I’ll list some of the important once here:
Amorphis – Tales from the thousand lakes
Amorphis – Elegy
Dimmu Borgir – Spiritual Black Dimensions
Emperor – In the nightside eclipse
Satyricon – Nemesis Divina
Satyricon – Rebel Extravaganza
Opeth – Deliverence
And there is no option not to mention Windir’s "Arntor".
All these albums are examples of important milestones for us (mostly speaking for me and André). All these have in their own way been an important inspiration to Mistur. Of course, there are hundreds of others, but we cannot mention them all. Lots of good memories from gatherings in Sogndal way back where these albums pushed the speakers to the limit!
What are some of your thoughts on the current state of the music industry as well as the distribution and consumption of music these days?
E: We don’t elaborate much on that. We focus on the music and enjoy that. We got a great relationship to our label Dark Essence. Our music is distributed worldwide and we will have the chance to present our material live, and that is what brings Mistur in the right direction.
Thanks once again for doing this interview and best of luck to you guys in the future. Any final words, comments, or insults to the faithful readers of Eternal Terror Live?
E: Thanks for letting us spread the words. If you have not already listened to "In Memorian", run out and buy it, or at least go online and listen to it! Mistur is back.