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Leading Black Metal Expert Finn Håkon Rødland Discusses His Projects & Musical Journey
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Last week, we shared a portion of our discussion with top black metal expert, Finn Håkon Rødland, and this week is the rest of that conversation. His work as a curator, historian, and writer has made him a figurehead in extreme music. In a world in which so few people understand what black metal really means, Rødland’s commitment to truth as both a music connoisseur and author is the result of an incalculable amount of time, energy, and resources he invests in his passion. He creates stellar content that accurately captures and preserves his country’s history and legacy by zeroing in on the bands that have been responsible for making black metal Norway’s biggest cultural export since Grieg and Munch.
In the first part of our conversation, Rødland told us about his “De Mysteriis Dom. Sathanas” photo exhibition last year at Grieghallen as well as his 25th-anniversary box set that was similarly dedicated to Mayhem’s classic debut album. It is likewise important to note that he has penned the booklets for many other Mayhem sets: Cursed in Eternity, A Season of Blasphemy, and Pure Fucking Armageddon. Like the last-named effort, a few more of Rødland’s projects were released last year: He contributed to the Manes box Ihjelbrent Skatt, the Mysticum box Industries of Inferno, and assisted with the reissue of Dimmu Borgir’s Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia. Rødland also had a hand in Ulver’s Trolsk Sortmetall box, which will ship this February.
You might have already heard that Rødland has carefully acquired, piece-by-piece, the most important Mayhem black metal collection in the world. His museum-quality treasures include letters from Dead, Manheim’s drumsticks used on the recording of Deathcrush, Snorre Ruch’s original drawing for the cover of De Mysteriis Dom. Sathanas, etc. See what Rødland has to say about his relics and more down below!
You’ve participated in so many different projects. It seems like you’re always up to something. For example, you contributed to Josh Brown’s beautiful book of mostly photography, Ancient Black Art: Nidrosian Black Metal, which came out recently, as well as to the NRK series Helvete, which I really enjoyed! What would you say are some of the most memorable projects you’ve taken part in?
Nidrosian Black Metal is a conglomerate of extreme talent in Trondheim, a small group of musicians playing in several bands within this circle. I have the utmost respect for their art, and they are good friends as well, so when they gave me their approval to help Josh out, I was honored to do so.
And again, I want to point out that I do not earn any money on any of the things I have been involved in. It’s all about the music, their legacy and friendship.
Well, I must say that being part of Helvete, the NRK production, as a useful helper was memorable because it’s different on a TV channel like that. Normally, if they call on pop artists, they will sell their souls to be a part of a program. They will tell everything about their pains, personal crises, and sorrows to be on a TV show. The dynamic here is totally different. None of these guys have anything to win by being part of a TV show. So, I spent a lot of time explaining that this is going to take time. You are going to have to build trust with these guys because they have not had a good experience with the media. They will probably tell you to fuck off, so we have to do this properly. I said to them: “If you are going to do a documentary now, it has to be about the music. It has to be about the phenomenon — the boys that were 16, 17, 18 years old and made fantastic music that people all over the world love to this day. This is a global brand ‘Norwegian Black Metal.’ If you are going to do this, and if you want people to be involved who are in the scene, you have to focus on the people, the friendship within the bands, but also between the bands, the small networks. You have to skip the killings, the church burnings, and the violence — all of that sensational stuff. That has been covered for many years.” But then, of course, they understood and agreed. But obviously, as a journalist, you have to keep some kind of balance, so they had to mention it. But I think they did it in a good way.
It took some convincing for some of the [black metal] guys because really they have everything to lose and nothing to win, so it was a bit difficult. But they [the NRK team] understood it; they were patient. They spent a lot of time doing research and collecting information and having contact with everybody. I remember Snorre was super skeptical in the beginning, but we talked about it. I said that I vouch for these guys — that I had talked to them many times, and they had promised to do this properly. He was one of the first ones that I actually tried to reassure. I really tried to get Metalion to be a part of it, but he declined. The Dimmu Borgir guys were saying: “Another documentary, is that really necessary?” I said: “Yes, this one is the one to accept.”
I hoped for a season two for a long time, and I know that the people involved were also hoping for that to happen. I think that it turned out really-really great. In a second season, they should dedicate one episode to Darkthrone. They should do some episodes on the stories of Emperor, Satyricon, Enslaved, Immortal, Gorgoroth, Ulver, Arcturus, Ved Buens Ende, Dimmu Borgir, and the list goes on, haha! And the Nidaros scene, of course. They have the footage for a lot of this. It’s a shame if they don’t do it.
I agree! So, I read that you kind of got into black metal a bit late — 1998. Could you please tell me a little bit more about your black metal journey and how you discovered the genre?
I grew up with Kiss and bands like Iron Maiden, W.A.S.P., Metallica, Gary Moore, Europe, Queensrÿche, Thin Lizzy, Guns N’ Roses. And then, you have the grunge for a couple of years: I liked Alice in Chains and Nirvana. But then, I pretty much just listened to this Norwegian band called Seigmen for years until I turned to Norwegian black metal. Fantastic band! I loved them. Still do.
I’m from a small place called Nannestad. Silenoz of Dimmu Borgir is also from Nannestad, so we had mutual friends. But at the time, I didn’t give that music a chance. I didn’t listen to a lot of thrash metal, except again Metallica and a bit of Anthrax. And death metal wasn’t for me either. So, I didn’t have the natural bridge to black metal like the other guys: They listened to heavy metal, and then they had thrash, and then they had death metal. Since I skipped those two genres, I kind of missed the natural opportunity to look into black metal.
I eventually wanted to look into Norwegian Black Metal, and I met Tjodalv, the [then] drummer of Dimmu Borgir, at some point because we were living in the same area. I had started listening to Dimmu Borgir, and that was love at first listen! I just… I was breathless. I liked everything: the music, the vocals. I was so impressed by the vocal work of Shagrath. After that, I started sorting out other bands really fast. So, these
guys are close friends to this day.
The first Mayhem album I heard was De Mysteriis Dom. Sathanas, and it was the most fascinating thing I had ever heard. The songwriting, the guitars, the massive drums, and Attila’s vocals were out of this world. It was fantastic! I really like Wolf’s Lair Abyss (1997). I thought that was insanely good. I still do! I think it’s the best mini-album that has ever been made. There are a couple of other mini-albums that are incredibly good, but Wolf’s Lair Abyss… It stands out to me! You know, the violence, the aggressiveness, the intensity, the screams of Maniac, and the riffs by the mastermind Blasphemer! I just love that album. To keep it short, Mayhem was immediately something that particularly piqued my interest. During the following years, I became friends with the band and had the pleasure of seeing them many times over the years.
I must say that when Maniac left, I was really sad because I just found him to be a fantastic frontman. His onstage performances have always been extremely fascinating to me. He has this face that is in your face; he’s not trying to hide; he’s out there; he’s so naked. And I just love the connection he’s able to make with the audience! I was really sad when he left… or was told to leave. And then Attila came, and that was an unexpected opportunity to see the man behind the voice of De Mysteriis Dom. Sathanas.
I saw Attila’s live debut, as a member of the band, with Mayhem in Bergen, on January 12, 2005. And for the next gig, Maniac joined me, and we drove to Hamar to see them. It was very special seeing both Maniac and Attila backstage before the gig. I captured a lot of the evening on tape. Maniac said it was a fantastic gig, and that it was a privilege for him to see them. He was, and still is, a fan of Mayhem.
Are there any new and/or obscure releases that you would like to recommend?
Djevel’s Naa skrider natten sort is a total masterpiece that brilliantly captures the essence of Norwegian black metal circa 1994 and reinvents that feel in 2022. It’s an emotional experience to listen to it. Just fantastic in every way. I’ve been listening to Djevel for several years, but I think Ormer til armer, maane til hode  was a game-changer. Then, on Tanker som rir natten sort , you had Kvitrim on vocals! That was obviously a fantastic move. Trånn has really achieved black magic on these albums, and Faust’s drumming is fantastic.
Besides Djevel, I really like the Ritual Death album. It has this really old feel to it. Me and Silenoz were listening to it for hours straight driving to Trondheim some months ago, and he said it gave him some hints to Sarcófago and Beherit. I’m a strong supporter of the Nidaros environment… And Mare is releasing an EP. So, the rehearsal will be released as a tape this year. Then, they will record it, hopefully this year as well. Their previous full-length, Ebony Tower , has been said to be one of the very best since the beginning of Norwegian black metal, and I totally agree. So, people should check them out. Also, Vemod is highly recommended. They have a fantastic, beautiful album coming out next year. And then, you have the Thorns album, obviously. Snorre had it pretty much done 15 years ago, so it’s been a process… but it will come out! It sounds fantastic! I also talked with Kaos the other day, and he promised to finally record the new Dark Sonority album next year. That will be a monumental release as well. I would also like to recommend Slagmaur and Whoredom Rife as well. Slagmaur is extremely fascinating with really odd albums and stage appearances, a signature that stands out like nothing else. Whoredom Rife is an extremely solid band and one of the best ones you’ll see live in concerts.
I’m also very fascinated by bands that completely morph, and I absolutely love Ulver. What we can expect on the next album, you never know! Fantastic band. I remember I watched The New Pope on HBO and suddenly heard “Glamour Box” by Ulver, and I was “What the fuck?!” Haha. And I sent Kris [Rygg] a text. Awesome track!
Take a look at Manes as well and compare the old necro black metal stuff with the wonderful synth waves of Slow Motion Death Sequence . Same story with Dødheimsgard, DHG, and the genius Vicotnik, who co-founded the band with Aldrahn. DHG’s last album, A Umbra Omega , was a majestic masterpiece, and I think we all are really looking forward to the new album in 2023, based on the teaser on the new Peaceville compilation, Dark Side of the Sacred Star . Vicotnik recently started Doedsmaghird, DHG’s “grim and malevolent” twin brother. He currently fronts Dold Vorde Ens Navn. DVEN also features Haavard — ex-Ulver, ex-Satyricon; Cerberus — ex-DHG; and Myrvoll — DHG and Nidingr. So, Vicotnik is a busy man indeed when you include Ved Buens Ende and Strid as well.
And as a big admirer of Blasphemer, I am really glad he is doing proper black metal again with his new project RUÏM. I know from the past that he is a good singer as he was the singer in Testimony before Mayhem. He also handled the vocals live at two Mayhem gigs in Belgium and the Netherlands in the late ’90s. The RUÏM promo track on Dark Side of the Sacred Star is extremely promising and is linked to Mayhem-era music. I hear references to Chimera  on that one, so I believe we have something very special to look forward to!
Finally, I just got the vinyl for Dødsengel, Bab Al On , and it is glorious. It is darker and more complex compared to the more melodic Interequinox , and it’s safe to say that Kark is a very talented artist.
Do you have any favorite pieces in your collection? And how does it feel to have a Spellemann Award? — The little harp from Necrobutcher. [Mayhem received Årets Hederspris, the honorary Spellemann Award / “Norwegian Grammy” of the year, in 2021 for 2020.]
I have to say I was really-really proud and humbled. I have known Jørn for a long time now, and we have had a good time working on Cursed in Eternity and Pure Fucking Armageddon. I’m very glad that I was able to help and work on these important eras of Mayhem, and we have Deathcrush coming up next.
When they won this award, it was, you know… If it was 15-20 years ago, it would have never happened. So, having Mayhem win this award is like… Nobody could have expected that. Obviously, Mayhem had already won the 2007 Spellemann in the metal category for Ordo Ad Chao, but Hederprisen, the honorary award, is a whole different type of recognition. I actually think the Helvete NRK production made the public appreciate Mayhem’s contributions and understand how global they are. It’s like I said when I was interviewed in the national newspaper [Aftenposten] when I did the box set and was also part of Helvete: “In a couple hundred years, it’s not going to be the pop artists that everybody’s talking about. If we’re going to write a history book about Norwegian music, it’s going to be about Mayhem, Emperor, and Darkthrone. It’s going to be about those guys. There will be a chapter dedicated to this music.” So, I feel it was well-deserved that they won this prize. And I believe that Mayhem also appreciated the fact that they won the award.
But then, you asked if there are some specific things in my collection that I appreciate. Yeah, there is obviously a lot of different stuff. The letters from Euronymous to Maniac are really special. As a collector, I really appreciate having the original demo tapes because those are a really-really important part of history. And I’m really fascinated by the newspapers from the ’90s. So, if there is anything else that I should mention…?! Yeah, the sword from Helvete, the one that Euronymous had on the wall… The digital delay pedal that Euronymous used on the guitar solos and add-ons during the recording. Stuff like that is, of course, fantastic.
I also really appreciate this other special piece: When Euronymous died and they cleaned out his apartment, this guy Espen picked up the vinyl that was on his record player. It was Cyborg by Klaus Schulze. He later gave that to me as a gift. I just have the vinyl and the inner sleeve, and it has a Mayhem stamp on it. But then, I talked to Bård “Faust” Eithun, a really good friend of mine, and he said: “You know, I have the rest of the album because it’s a double album.” So, I have one vinyl, and he has the other vinyl and the cover.
Even though you’ve already written your epic box set booklets, I was wondering if you have any plans to write a separate book.
I don’t have anything planned. People are asking me if I’m going to do it, and maybe I should. I thought about maybe collecting all the interviews I have been doing because many people say I want to read the book, but I don’t want to buy the box. They would buy the book if it was sold separately. And that goes for all the boxes that I have been working on. So, maybe… But I have a full-time job. I’m doing this voluntarily and as a hobby.
I’m working on Grymyrk, the Thorns demo. I did this really long interview with Snorre, and I’m planning to do interviews with Faust, Marius Vold, and this fourth guy that was involved in that recording, Harald Eilertsen. It just takes a lot of time. And Deathcrush is also going to take a lot of time. I just have to, I think, focus on the important stuff now.
And regarding the exhibition, the Norwegian embassy in Berlin has asked about having an exhibition in 2023, so that might be happening. I will be at the Inferno Festival in Oslo in April helping to facilitate a talk with the NRK team about the Helvete documentary, and then there is the magnificent Beyond the Gates again. I’ll be there with Dimmu Borgir and will probably do another exhibition on them at the festival, the early era. That’s going to be a fantastic experience as well. So, yeah, there’s a lot of cool stuff happening, but maybe one day I’ll write a book!
Although we are terribly impressed by what you’ve already accomplished, we certainly hope that you will keep finding new ways to record your knowledge! We also hope to see your exhibitions travel globally!
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