Abbath: ‘Outstrider’ Album, First Meeting Varg Vikernes + ’80s KISS
Abbath is easily the most recognizable figure in black metal. In contrast, he defies the stereotypes of the genre with his take-the-piss sense of humor that falls right in line with the endless parade of Photoshopped press shots and memes taking aim at black metal's inherent silliness over the last decade-plus.
There's a lot of fun to be had, especially with someone who is as big of a KISS fan as Abbath, but the material on the new Outstrider album is the most vicious he's put his name to in his nearly three-decade long career.
Connecting from New York to his home in Norway on a Skype video call, any mystique is shattered as he sits at his kitchen table, no corpse paint, with maybe a dozen cartons of eggs in view in the background.
It's not an impenetrable ice fortress — just a quaint kitchen. I turn my laptop to show him the cardboard cutout of Paul Stanley standing behind the IKEA unit housing my record collection, he shows me his framed picture of Bathory's Quorthon breathing fire the next room over — neither of us crack the obvious Iron Maiden joke, "Would you come into my room, I wanna show you all my wares..."
Our conversation starts off with the new record, one that has flashes of death metal aggression and wildly sexual lyrics ("they owe you each last drop / of ejaculate crotch shot"), which immediately sets it apart from Abbath's legacy with Immortal.
From there, he explains Bathory's influence on the pre-Norwegian black metal scene and confesses he was the only one at the time listening to the influential Swedish band. He reminisces about his death metal group Old Funeral, which existed before Immortal, and a teenage Varg Vikernes, before the Burzum mastermind cemented his status as the most controversial musician in Norway.
Going further back into his musical history, we nerd out over our mutual love of '80s era KISS and Abbath admits he flat out doesn't give a fuck if Paul Stanley is lip-syncing on the KISS "End of the Road" farewell tour. In fact, he's more defensive about it than Stanley has been himself.
Now, hit play on "Harvest Pyre" and read what Abbath had to say.
What I noticed on Outstrider, specifically on the first two tracks, is that there's a little bit more of a death metal touch, kind of like Emperor's Prometheus album.
"Bridge of Spasms" was the first one we started working on this album. It contains new riffs, some old riffs — even some of the riffs on the "Calm in Ire (Of Hurricane)" was written before the first album.
You have all these riffs, so you keep them on ice and then you figure it out. "Land of Khem" was the last song we finished, but it contains the oldest riffs.
I'm very fortunate to have the greatest lyricist in the world — Simon Lancaster. He's still helping me out with lyrics.
On "Scythewinder," the lyrics are a lot different than what we usually expect you to be singing. There's lines such as "ejaculate crotch shot" and "chastity shall misbehave" — where is that coming from?
"Scythewinder" was actually a lyric he had written way earlier. That's also one of the earliest lyrics he came up with. It's kind of an anthem — stand up and be confident, "bite down hard, don't let go." It's an old Immortal riff, the opening riff, which I never used — that's the oldest part on the whole album, I think.
With Abbath, why did you decide to pursue the project as a full band? You could have easily played all the instruments yourself.
Well, I could have but I didn't really want to. I wanted to have an extra lead guitar player since I'm not much of a lead guitarist. So I had Ole André Farstad coming in and being such a guitar god in many ways. It is amazing what he creates and he gives the music a new sound and a new shape.
It's a great process. I don't have to tell anybody what to play. They come up with ideas and the best ideas rise to the surface. So it's more of a band than Immortal was for many, many years. It was unfortunate that Tom [Cato Visnes a.k.a. 'King ov Hell,' ex-Gorgoroth] left, but it was inevitable at the end really — he just went crazy and fucked off.
I am very fortunate, and this time I have a female bass player — Mia from Milan, Italy. She is a very good friend of my ex-wife and when she heard that Tom had left she asked me if the job was available. I couldn't find a more qualified person to replace Tom and it doesn't matter if it is a woman or a man as long as she plays like a beast and she does. You can hear it on the album.
Let's go back to your earliest days in heavy metal with Old Funeral, where you played more of a death metal style. We already touched on that with the sounds of the new album, but what was the band that you heard back then that made you want to switch from playing death metal to black metal?
So that ties into the new album with the "Pace 'Till Death" cover. What was his impact on the whole Norwegian scene? Was it one person who learned about Bathory and shared it with everyone else?
I remember starting to listen to Bathory in '87 or something. Before there was a black metal scene. I remember playing in Old Funeral and even early in Immortal, I was the only one around here who listened to Bathory at the time. The first one I heard was "The Return of Darkness and Evil" on the Scandinavian Metal Attack compilation.
I really liked them because I was a huge fan of KISS, Manowar, Motorhead, Venom... you can hear that in Bathory's music, too. He made it more badass, evil, dark, mystic, and it's this one guy and I became possessed by it. It was so badass — the most badass you can fucking get. So that was the direction that I decided to go in.
You've been credited with getting Varg Vikernes (Burzum) into black metal. When you first met him did he have extreme views at the time, or was he more of an innocent kid?
I remember when he joined Old Funeral. He was already very committed and he took it very seriously. He was very into the band Death and death metal at that point.
I remember before that, when Demonaz lived in his parents' house in the basement, there was this window and one night he was sleeping and there was this knocking on his window. It was raining and it was the middle of the night and he opened it up and it was Varg who was probably just 17 years old.
"Hey, do you have a guitar pick? Can I borrow a guitar pick from you?" [laughs] Demonaz and his sister had this party one night, and I wanted a second guitarist in Old Funeral and Varg happened to be there and the day after he came up to rehearse with us. He was a guitarist and driving his El Camino and [imitates car noises] — I liked him at first and I had no problems with Varg. I liked him until all this shit all started to happen and he started to get all these crazy views and everything, but in the beginning I really liked the guy.
Going back, talking about the image, a lot of Black Metal bands have taken off the Corpse Paint over the years. What does it mean to you and why have you decided not to take it off for a performance?
I think it's cool, I like it. It's my persona. It's my inner demon character — my rock 'n' roll.
In the beginning with Immortal it was only white makeup. I remember one night standing in front of the mirror and I just took some black and I did that. I was thinking how Gene Simmons did his makeup and I filled it in with black.
I know you're a huge KISS fan and there are all these rumors of Paul Stanley lip-syncing on the farewell tour. What is your take?
Who cares? I mean, come on, it's KISS. They have a hell of a show, and if there are certain nights he can't sing — if his voice is fucked, they have a backup. What's the big deal? I don't see it as a big deal. He has been screaming his ass off for almost 50 fucking years now. He had two fucking hip replacement surgeries.
They're the hardest working band on the fucking face of the planet. I remember I saw them some years ago in Bergen and he was struggling as fuck with his voice but come on.
It's about the show with them anyway.
Exactly. I don't give a fuck.
I'm a huge fan on the '80s stuff — Creatures of the Night, Animalize, Asylum...
Creatures of the Night is one of my favorites. It's probably my favorite KISS album and one of my favorite albums of all time. Lick It Up is an amazing album, Animalize is great. "I've Had Enough (Into the Fire)" — fucking hell. "Burn Bitch Burn," "Murder in High Heels," "I've Got a Gun..."
Asylum is a good album, but I think the production is a bit weak there with the guitars. But I like "King of The Mountain," "Anyway You Slice It" and "Love Is A Deadly Weapon [starts singing lyrics] yeah, that's fucking awesome.
Thanks to Abbath for the interview, Grab your copy of 'Outstrider' from the Season of Mist webshop (out July 5) and follow the band on Facebook.
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