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Black Metal Legend Sarke Discusses Tulus’ Forthcoming Album, Fandens Kall
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When Tulus’ Fandens Kall drops on February 17, it’s sure to delight even the most curmudgeonly black metal purists. Formed in 1991, Tulus was not only among the first Norwegian black metal bands to emerge, but they were also one of the very best. Everything that Tulus does is imbued with the spirit, drive, and authenticity of the movement’s golden age. Tulus still features co-founding members Sverre ‘Blodstrup’ Stokland, who provides vocals and guitars, and drummer Thomas ‘Sarke’ Bergli. ‘Crowbel’ Stian M. Kråbøl, who joined in 2008, handles bass.
In 2000, Tulus morphed into Khold — a bit of a straighter and heavier entity that was meant to be more of a live band. Fortunately, Tulus eventually reemerged and released their comeback, Biography Obscene, in 2007. Sarke then formed his eponymous solo project in 2008. Although Sarke became a band with permanent members once Indie Recordings requested a second album, Bergli still writes just about all of the material. You might have noticed that the striking image on Sarke’s latest album, Allsighr (2021), was created by Kjell Åge Meland, who also painted the cover of Fandens Kall.
In anticipation of Fandens Kall’s unveiling, please enjoy our discussion with Sarke himself about Tulus and his other projects.
I was so excited to hear your new album, Fandens Kall! It’s absolutely fantastic! So, of course, you’re the main songwriter in Tulus. But Blodstrup contributes as well, and it seems that Crowbel writes the bass parts. Hildr composes the lyrics, which are always superb like every other aspect of Tulus’ art. To begin, could you please take me through the songwriting process for Fandens Kall?
I want to start by saying that everybody makes songs actually. The bass player also makes guitar riffs and stuff for the album. So, the next single [“Snømyrkre”] was actually written by the bass player. And Blodstrup also makes songs. So, they all contribute, but I make most of it.
At what point did you and the rest of the band begin to present your ideas to one another?
It’s when we rehearse. Sometimes, we make a little bit at rehearsal, but mostly it’s made at home. So, I just make riffs and ideas and sometimes almost a complete song. Then, we take it to rehearsal, and we try it out and rearrange the parts. The guitarist sometimes changes the riffs a little bit, he adjusts, and it’s somewhat like just a jamming process also. I can have the riffs here for a year before we play them at a rehearsal. But sometimes, when we know we are making an album, we go to rehearsal, and we present our ideas and riffs and start to make songs.
How far does your oldest riff or song idea on the album date back?
It could be maybe two years.
You’ve said that you’re inspired by paintings, poems, and nature. Are there any specific inspirations for this album that you’d like to share?
No, not exactly. I use, you know — if Hildr has the lyrics before the song is done, I can use her lyrics. And I can use pictures I see on the internet or paintings and, of course, nature and that sort of thing for inspiration. And, of course, my own mind. So, I just think about it.
I love the fact that you recorded the album live with Lars-Erik Westby. I think that led to an ideal result. What would you say was the most memorable moment in the studio?
I don’t think it’s one particular moment. I think it’s the whole studio process where we record the songs and try out different things. For my part, recording the songs is good. So, I wouldn’t say it’s one special moment. It’s the whole process of being in the studio and seeing the songs come alive.
Improvisation was a factor in the album [as we see in the documentary about the making of Fandens Kall, Tulus — 3 Decades of Uncompromising Norwegian Black Metal, by Andreas Reinhardt]. Given that, how different was the end result from what you originally envisioned?
Not so much because we had done it before, you know. We rehearse the songs and do the same in the studio, so it won’t be much different. A little bit of keyboards is added. And, you know, on one song, we have female vocals. And that changed it a little bit. And the sound, we are not sure… But I am pleased about the sound on this album. So, I think it’s turned out quite as we expected, I would say.
I really enjoyed that Lena Fløitmoen’s vocals were used on the album as well as the keyboards of Sarke’s Anders Hunstad, as you just mentioned. [Lars-Erik also contributed some piano.] On the one hand, you have these great elements that add atmosphere and mood. Then, on the other hand, you strip the music down to its essential elements. So, how do you find the balance between adding accents and also keeping things simple?
We usually do that part in the studio. We just try out different things and see how it works out. Yes.
Hildr is one of black metal’s best lyricists, arguably the best. And she’s also responsible for the cover of your classic debut, Pure Black Energy , which obviously features you. That’s certainly my favorite black metal photo. Do you remember if it was difficult in the beginning for Blodstrup to convince Hildr to keep writing for Tulus? And also, do you know what her initial reaction was to hearing her poems performed by the band?
I think she has been positive about writing lyrics for Tulus the whole time. So, I’m not sure if there was any moment where we had to talk her into it. And I am not sure about the first time she listened to this. I guess I was not there. But she likes metal music and has been doing this for a long-long time. I guess she’s also pleased about Tulus’ music.
You and Blodstrup have been collaborating for decades, and it seems like you are childhood friends as well. So, I was wondering if there’s anything you do as fellow artists to maintain your working relationship.
We just do what we have always done. When we are older like now, when we are grown up, we are not together so much in our spare time. But we make a lot of music. So, we started with music, you know, in the late ‘80s, and we have played together since.
Of course, I love Sarke and Khold — Svartsyn was one of our picks for the top albums of 2022, and Allsighr was one of the albums that made my year in 2021. How do you determine when it’s time to work on Tulus versus Sarke or Khold?
That’s more a matter of when the album is going to be released. When you have some concerts with Tulus, and we do have an album coming that we’re planning, then it’s a lot of Tulus. And when we have done that for a while, and we see that we have to release a Khold album, then we switch to make Khold music and stuff. And also, in Khold, it’s me and Rinn, the guitarist in Khold. We make most of the music in Khold. And Sarke is a solo project. So, in Sarke, I make everything myself. I just do that in my spare time. So, it’s easy for me to separate those bands. I never do all three of those bands at the same time. Each band has its own period. But sometimes, when an album comes out, it’s the case that we recorded that album 1 1/2 years ago.
I’ve heard the story about how Tulus was asked to come up with a name change and all when you signed with Moonfog in 2000. Of course, I’m very happy that Tulus and Khold are both active right now! But could you please tell me what prompted your decision to resurrect Tulus?
We thought that when we changed the name to Khold, we also changed the music style a bit. So, the music of Khold is more primitive and heavier. After a while, we thought we could do another Tulus album because it’s different anyway. So, they are two different bands because we were supposed to change the style a little bit when we signed to Moonfog. But then, it was also natural to change the band name since it’s not actually the same music, we feel. So, after a couple of years or something, we thought we could just keep Tulus going because, as I’ve said, it’s a bit different anyway.
It definitely is! For a while, you were in Valhall, which is a band that I really love as well. You took over for Fenriz when he got too busy with Darkthrone. That was when Valhall was still more on the extreme side. A lot of readers might not know that you actually worked with Fenriz when he made a guest appearance on Opera’s 1991 demo The Eyes of Uranus. So, that’s a great fact! Again, you’ve been making metal since ‘87, but you told Jerry from Rauta that attending Darkthrone rehearsals was what made you switch to over black metal. Do you think that you would have changed your style to black metal at one point or another even without that experience?
Yes, I was into black metal at that time also because I was going to the Mayhem concerts and Darkthrone concerts. So, I was into black metal, but we didn’t have a black metal band. When I met the guys in Darkthrone and went to their rehearsals, it was a cool movement then, you know — some cool stuff, some cool concerts. So, we just started Tulus to also play black metal because it was quite cool, and, of course, it was really inspiring to be at the Darkthrone rehearsals. So, that made it more certain that we would also play black metal.
Tulus has recorded a couple of excellent covers: Obituary’s “Slowly We Rot” and David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” — that has to be one of the greatest covers ever. And also, Khold took on Sepultura, which was awesome as well! Are there any artists that you would still like to cover in the future?
I’m not sure. I haven’t thought about that for a long time. We played a Death cover at our last gigs here in Europe: We played a song from the Spiritual Healing album. But another band…? Maybe an old Manowar song from one of their first two albums — one of them.
That would be really fun! Speaking of covers, of all the Darkthrone songs, why does Sarke choose to perform “Too Cold Too Old” during concerts? It’s an amazing song, obviously!
That’s because Nocturno Culto of Darkthrone said we could do that song, so it’s not my choice, but, of course, it’s a good song. So, we rehearsed, and then Nocturno said we could do this song. And then, we said okay.
This is a bit of a change of topic, but how was your experience participating in the movie Saga ?
That was a fun experience. It was just a good period, a good time to be in there at the set and be a part of it. Of course, when we do a movie, it’s a lot of waiting, but I think it was okay. It was cool.
The result was really cool! I heard that the film was the reason that you first met Mork’s Thomas Eriksen. I suggest that people listen to your discussion on his podcast. So, was it difficult for you to convince the other members of Sarke to participate in the film?
No. No. That was quite easy. You know, when somebody asks you if you can be the band in their movie… I think it was quite good, so we just said yes.
Do you have any plans for the future with any of your bands that you’d like to reveal?
The plan now is to do a Sarke album. And we’re also going to play some concerts with Tulus and, I guess, some concerts with Khold also. But the first thing now is Tulus. So, I guess we’ll do some concerts, and then we will start on the Sarke album maybe later this year.
That’s wonderful news about Sarke! Do you feel that playing your songs live gives you a different understanding of them?
Yes, of course, when you play a lot of live music, you get the feeling of what’s working or what’s not working so well. So, you take that live experience back to when you’re making new songs.
Is there anything else that you’d like readers to know?
No, I just think it would be good if they could check out our albums. Check out the new Tulus! Give it a go! And maybe see the documentary. It’s a bit of a different documentary. I guess it’s a bit of the happy side of black metal, isn’t it?
It’s great! I really enjoyed it. And I was happy to see Ronny Østli in there because I’m really fond of Vesen as well. So, I second what you said: I recommend that people watch the documentary and that they either revisit or begin discovering all of your work. Fandens Kall is really something special, so I urge readers to order their copies now!
(Pre-order Tulus’ Fandens Kall here. This masterpiece is set to drop on February 17 via Soulseller Records. You can find the documentary Tulus — 3 Decades of Uncompromising Norwegian Black Metal below.)
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