Shagrath – Vocalist of DIMMU BORGIR
Interview and live pictures by Luxi Lahtinen
Dimmu Borgir was booked as one of the main headlining acts for Sauna Open Air Metal Festival this year. Other bands included Megadeth, Type o Negative and Heaven & Hell. Dimmu has been touring the globe extensively since April 23rd 2007 for their new album IN SORTE DIABOLI. The album has even climbed up to position 43 on the Billboard top 200 album list. That’s a pretty respectable achievement from an extreme metal band on a list that is mostly been dominated by all kinds of pop/dance music artists.
I met the band´s vocalist Shagrath at a very luxurious looking Hotel Ilves in Tampere 4 hours prior to their showcase at the main stage of the festival. Shagrath looked pretty tired after getting a minimal amount of sleep last night, so we decided to postpone the interview session with him for 1 hour so he could at least get a chance to eat something first – and get himself awakened a bit more before he got himself in the right mood and spirit to talk to Metal-Rules.com.
One hour later Shagrath arrives to the lobby of the hotel; a couple of friendly handshakes and he´s ready to answer to all the questions that this patient journalist wanted to inquire from him briefly. What kinds of amazing wonders can a good lunch really do for a person… ;o)
How has your “Invaluable Darkness” tour been going thus far? You started from Montreal, Canada on April 23rd and played yesterday at Sweden Rock festival for thousands of people…
Yeah, we played there yesterday and it was great. Before that we just finished our American tour; played there 6 weeks. We had one day off and from there we went straight to Italy – and did this Sweden Rock yesterday and this Sauna Open Air is our 3rd festival gig on this tour.
What has been the highlight of this tour for you so far? Playing at Sweden Rock festival?
I don´t know about that, but it was very, very good for us anyway. People gave us a very good response there. It took about 1 hour to check the sound from the sound guy. Upfront it didn´t sound good enough for us in the beginning, but I´m glad after a while the sound turned out really good for us, so… Yeah, I´m very pleased with that gig actually. It went very well. It´s also good to be back in Europe; I prefer touring here in Europe to America.
Why is that?
I just think everything is a little bit better over here when it comes to average things; food and places we play as they are a little bit more organized than in America, I think.
When you played all those dates in Germany, they were all considered some sort of record release parties for IN SORTE DIABOLI, according to your website at least. Now could you explain that a little bit why so many record release parties for just this one album…
Really? I have no idea, why they were all put like that way on our website. I personally haven´t seen those dates myself, but it looks like some sort of misunderstanding or something, he-he…
Now when it´s summer, you naturally play a lot of these festival shows. Do you feel like playing at all these festivals kind of give you something extra as playing at festivals also means that you also have an opportunity to introduce the band for a new audience that may not have heard Dimmu Borgir before?
That´s a good thing about these festivals that you get an opportunity to play for a lot of different types of audiences. People can get to know new bands in the festivals even if they like them or not, ha-ha! So, it´s definitely a good thing to play in all these festivals even if we are not that much of a festival band. Our music is very complex in a way that we have so many elements in our music; keyboards, samples, guitars, bass, drums, etc. It´s like… it´s so much stuff that we feel that we cannot create all those necessary atmospheres in the festivals as we´d like to. We need a proper soundcheck and things need overall to be so well organized in order that we can actually do a show. Also, playing in the daylight doesn´t support our purpose that much either to create the right atmosphere around our music. Y´know, we are an atmospheric band and that means certain things to do a proper show. No soundcheck and playing in the daylight can be for us very stupid for sure. Even though the festivals can be great to do, sometimes I think it´s not that cool to do them because of the reasons I just told you.
IN SORTE DIABOLI
As for your latest work, IN SORTE DIABOLI, how hard was it actually to make a concept album as this was the first one in your whole career?
It was not that different really. It´s just that the music and the lyrics are written separately anyways. The only thing is that the lyrics should be linked to each other in a way. That´s the only difference basically. It´s about one story, but although the music was written totally separately from the lyrics on this album, the lyrics were done a long time before we started our song writing process for this album.
Are you guys able to write new stuff when you are on tour?
No, never. We have to be very relaxed and live in sort of quietness to be able to make the music we do. Our music is very sophisticated and needs a lot of people involved in the process, y´know. We are like 4 people making music for this band, so we need everyone´s involvement when we start making new music for Dimmu Borgir. We just never make any music on tour; we need to be at home, feel totally relaxed and concentrated in order to write new material for us. That´s why it took such a long time from us to write this album – almost 4 years since our previous release (DEATH CULT ARMAGEDDON) because we toured so much for our last album.
I know many bands that even write new stuff during tours…
Yeah, some bands can do that, I´m sure, but we can´t, ha-ha!
IN SORTE DIABOLI, is a bit more guitar-orientated and straightforward album than its predecessor, DEATH CULT ARMAGEDDON. Did this happen or purpose or by accident that the songs turned out more guitar-orientated for IN SORTE DIABOLI? How much was there a sort of pre-planning how you wanted the songs on IN SORTE DIABOLI to sound like?
I think it happened us just naturally why the album turned out a bit more guitar-orientated just like you said yourself. Also, basically our keyboard player didn´t come up with too many ideas for this album, so naturally all the other of us contributed the album more with more guitars and stuff. It´s definitely more guitar-orientated and overall more extreme effort and so forth. It´s also a very direct and spontaneous album, I would say. I think we spent only 6 months making the whole album. We had some ideas beforehand. We jammed the songs at our rehearse room and two of the songs were actually written when we were already in the studio, or like made properly in the studio. We didn´t communicate so much to each other either; we just basically did our thing and went back, y´know. So, I would say IN SORTE DIABOLI is a very spontaneous record all in all compared to everything else we have done before. We spent like 5 weeks recording it, and mixing it – and I think we spent like 3 months in the studio with our previous album DEATH CULT ARMAGEDDON. It´s a big difference.
Hellhammer from Mayhem also did the drums for IN SORTE DIABOLI. Did he bring some new ideas into the sound of Dimmu Borgir from your own point of view?
Yeah, absolutely. He´s a very professional drummer and in a way he´s definitely a studio drummer. I mean, the music was already written for this album, but we still decided to give him free hands to come up with some certain songs ideas basically for things, y´know. We made a pre-production of the songs with the programmed drums, but still he comes up with some great ideas and they turned out really well, so we are glad that we got him to do the drums for IN SORTE DIABOLI.
OZZFEST IN 2004
You also participated the legendary Ozzfest in 2004 (with Judas Priest, Slayer, Slipknot, etc.). I guess the whole tour was pretty much a tremendous success for Dimmu Borgir, introducing you a big bunch of people that otherwise wouldn´t come across Dimmu Borgir in any other occasion, correct?
Ozzfest really helped us to become more known in the American territory. I have to confess that we were really skeptic about the whole thing in the beginning, but then we thought that we have a great spot to play on the main stage there; right before Slayer, and even if we played in the daylight, it still was good for us after we did it because doubled the record sales in the U.S.A. after that tour. So being a part of Ozzfest was absolutely a good thing for us as a wholeness.
How big were the crowds approximately during the Ozzfest tour?
I would say it was like – well, I don´t know, maybe around 10.000-20.000 people, depending on where we played. For example we played for a very huge crowd in Los Angeles; there was just lots of people – a lot of different type of people.
When I interviewed Rob Halford some years ago, he confessed to be a Dimmu Borgir -fan. Have you met the guy?
Yeah, sure… And I like Judas Priest as well, so it´s cool.
Have you ever thought of working in some project together with him?
Ha-ha… not really. I haven´t talked so much to him. I don´t know if he even likes doing these project type of things.
I´m personally a bit curious to know, but did you manage to meet Ozzy personally at any of these shows? How was he like? Does he like Dimmu Borgir, too?
I met Ozzy as well, but we didn´t talk to him much either. He´s like a bit ´strange guy´, so…
What will happen for Dimmu Borgir in 2008 touring-wise? What kind of plans have you already set for 2008 as far as touring is concerned?
First of all, we are gonna try to complete the plans we have for this year, y´know. We´ve done the U.S. tour, we did the festivals and then the European tour, starting from September, and ending in November. And then we are gonna have December off, and then we are gonna have a little break in the beginning of next year, I think. Then we may head to South-America, Japan, Australia and maybe we are even going back to U.S.A. again after all those tours, maybe as a support band for a bigger band. But nothing certain has been set down on the table yet, so we´ll see later what happens for us touring-wise. Next year is still pretty much open.
WORKING YOUR ASSES OFF FOR SUCCESS
Dimmu Borgir has been considered as the most leading group of so-called modern Black Metal these days by many. I honestly don´t think the term ´Black Metal´ fits in to describe Dimmu Borgir´s stuff well enough. What do you think about this matter?
I really don´t categorize us as a Black Metal band any more either. It´s like the tone ´Black Metal´ is so watered out today; it´s hard to say what´s real Black Metal these days and what´s not. We just do our own thing and if people want to relate us to Black Metal, that´s completely ok with me. For us it´s still an extreme music and that´s it.
Can you tell what kinds of things is all of your success based on from your point of view that you have traveled this far from a relatively unknown underground act to one of the bands in this ´big league´?
I think that of course the quality of the music we create, is one of those reasons. And also it´s been a lot of hard work from us to reach this position where we are nowadays. It´s a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll, ha-ha! Basically I think if I compare us to some other Norwegian bands, we are the most hard-working band in the scene in our own home country. You just have to tour and you have to work hard to be able to get somewhere. And naturally you have to release quality music that people are interested in. One other thing is that we combine a lot of different styles of music into the sound of Dimmu Borgir which I think somehow tends to appeal many different types of people. You don´t have to be, f.ex. a ´Black Metal´ guy to like Dimmu Borgir. We have so many different audiences, so probably that´s why we also sell more records than some other bands from the similar genre. Then we have a good record company behind us that has been doing a lot of great promotion for us and that really helps to get us further basically.
It´s a real blessing if you get a chance to work with good people that really work hard for their bands, as they should do in the first place…
Absolutely. It helps a lot! For promotion, for record and when they put a lot of effort and money into these things, they really believe in us which is always a good thing.
What kinds of things actually keep you motivated and inspired from one year to another so that things could be kept on that level of interest that you don´t get bored or frustrated to be a part of this band?
It´s like a circle, y´know. The same thing happens almost in every year. You release an album, you tour and you always come back; start making new music and release a new album – and then you tour again, ha-ha! It´s really like traveling around this circle over and over and over again. As things what keep me motivated, it´s hard to say. It´s a lifestyle, y´know. A good thing is that I can do exactly what I want to. I don´t have any bosses telling me what I should do. I don´t have to work that hard to earn my (Norwegian) Crowns. All that keeps me more into doing the thing than I´m actually being able to recollecting other things that I´d like to do most.
I gotta assume also that there are times when you may ask a question from yourself: “Why am I actually doing this?”
Yes, I think about that – well, if not almost every day, but very often anyway… Absolutely! Sometimes it´s very hard to stay away from your family or if you have children or girlfriend or wife or whatever. Being away from home and being on tour mean a lot of waiting at airports, lack of sleep, a lot of partying, sleeping in a hotel room, etc. it can get really boring many times. It´s not meant for everybody, y´know. Being on tour for a long time it also very tough. You get to used to it though, but sometimes I need to ask from myself: “Why the hell am I doing this?”. There are days when I really hate this to the utter guts, ha-ha!
Partying must be that cool part, but you cannot do it like every night after the show…
Exactly! I can´t drink so much before the show. If I have hangover when I´m singing, it´s gonna be bad, so I try not to drink so much.
ABOUT VIDEOS AND DVDS
You did this video called “The Serpentine Offering” with the Swedish director Patrick Ullaeus who actually directed your previous video “Progenies Of The Great Apocalypse” as well. What makes Patrick such an ideal director for Dimmun Borgir as he is, in your opinion? Do you think that he´s got the best understanding and vision what Dimmu Borgir is all about visually?
Well, I think he´s really interested in us; he´s the fan of the music and he brought more effort into the video than he actually got paid for doing it. He´s a great and professional guy from every aspect really.
How will your cooperation continue with him in the future? Have you already some other plans to shoot a video for some other song off this new album with him?
We continue use him, but I think for the video we are gonna use somebody else anyway. We have to get a different theme because you may easily get stuck in one style and one of doing things. We don´t wanna repeat things too much, y´know, so maybe we are going to have some other guy´s opinions about directing a video.
Do you have any further DVD plans? I mean, it´s been 5 years since WORLD MISANTROPHY came out…
We don´t have so much material ready for it yet. We haven´t been filming new footage so much at all.
Do you have a film crew with you on this tour?
No, not on this tour; just a personal camera, but we´ll see if we get some new material after a while, after the tour has been done. Maybe we´ll release a DVD in the meantime ´til people wait for the next record from us. When we stop touring – who knows, maybe we´ll release a DVD, and after that we start making a new album. Nothing has been planned concerning it though.
THE VISUAL SIDE OF DIMMU BORGIR
Who´s that person (or persons) behind the visual side of the band how you look f.ex. on your promotional pictures, or when you play live?
The visual side of the band comes from ourselves. It´s the music that kinda reflects what style we represent visually; it has to be a certain style for this type of music, y´know. I cannot go onstage wearing Bermuda -shorts or basketball suits or whatever. That would never fit to our imago, would it? Ha-ha!
Let me think… Dimmu Borgir wearing Bermuda –shorts?! Hmm… nah, I don´t think so, he-he!
Our imago goes hand in hand with our music, and I think the visual side is very important for us how we look onstage or promotional pictures, whatever!
As Dimmu Borgir´s career is full of successful tours, albums, album charts, (IN SORTE DIABOLI was 43. on Billboard 200 list), I was just what could be Dimmu Borgir´s next steps toward the sky that you´d like to achieve with this band?
I was personally very surprised about that chart position for IN SORTE DIABOLI. I didn’t know what kind of reactions people would have about the album because it´s a more extreme album than our previous album D.C.A. and… I don´t know. I didn´t have so much expectations about it, but it still was a very good news to get know it went on that list. I was like: “Position 43…Wow!”. Also, IN SORTE DIABOLI reached no. 1 position in Norway, so it was really amazing really.
Do you think that Dimmu Borgir being a part of Ozzfest helped you a great deal why you reached that high position on Billboard´s list with IN SORTE DIABOLI?
Yeah, I think so – definitely! I really think so it helped us to get our latest record on that particular list.
Only a Norwegian band called A-ha, has ever climbed higher on this particular list out of all Norwegian artists before, so I´m sure it would feel simply fine to beat your country mates on this list sometimes, wouldn´t it? ;o)
Ha-ha-ha… To be honest with you, I never think about any album sales figures or anything. For me, it´s much more important that I´m happy with all that feedback that that I get out from my works that I can proudly represent any album that I´ve done, y´know. It´s of course a good thing to sell a lot of records, but for me the main thing is to be proud of what I have done; to have a record deal and to get the music out to people. I don´t follow the charts what position our albums may reach or anything. I´m not like that type of person at all. I just do my thing and…
… and if those type of things are about to come, they come?
What about tonight´s show here in Tampere? This is your first time to play at Sauna Open Air festival anyway…
I don´t have any expectations at all. I´m sure it´s gonna be a good show us, y´know, if we get some sleep first, ha-ha! We had to get up like at 5.00 clock this morning – and we went to bed like 3.00AM maybe, so we feel very tired right now. I´m sure if we get a good reaction from the crowd, they surely will motivate us to do a good show as well, I think. I hope tonight´s show will be good. A bad thing is that Hellhammer has had some problems with his arm for the last shows. He cannot lift his arm straighter than this.
What´s wrong with his arm then? Has he hurt it somewhere?
I don´t know. It´s some muscle in his arm he has these problems with, but let´s see what happens. He should be ok though. It was ok yesterday, but some things tend to be a bit unpredictable sometimes that you cannot control at all.
MORE FESTIVALS AND TOURS COMING UP
Where do you head next from this festival to?
We´ll do Download Festival on June 10th, and then we are gonna have Metal Hammer (“Golden Gods”) Awards in London on June 11th where we´ll play 3 songs. From there we´ll go back to home, Norway, for a week. After that we will do Graspop and a few other festivals.
Yeah, all these summer festivals are held right now, so it´s a festival season for Dimmu Borgir, too…
Exactly. There are so many summer festivals around right now. It´s incredible to notice how many festivals there actually is.
After all these festivals shows, I noticed from your website that you will come back to Finland on November 1st, this time together with Amon Amarth. I may suppose that you will have a whole different set list for that upcoming tour then, am I right?
Yeah, we are going to change the set list for that leg of the tour. We are gonna play more songs off this latest album. What we are doing right now on this tour, we only play like 2-3 new songs and we try to do like a festival thing with a couple of songs from each of our albums we have done. But for the upcoming European tour I think we´ll play at least 4-5 new songs off IN SORTE DIABOLI.
Ok, I don´t wanna bother you any more and let you go to take your nap before your showtime. Thanks for your time and all the best for the gig.
Ok, thank you very much.