Interview with Obsidian C.
Questions by EvilG, Chaosankh, and Lord of the Wasteland
Live pics by Arto
This LENGTHY interview was originally scheduled to take place in the summer of 2008, but due to busy schedules, it took a bit longer than expected to bring to you. For KoK fans, we hope it was worth the wait as we’ve covered a lot of ground with this beast.
FROM THE PAST
According to your biography on your myspace page, your former band, Ildskjaer, split up in 2000. Then it was not until 2003 that you showed back up in the scene as a touring guitarist for Satyricon. Were you actively pursuing any other musical ventures during those three years?
The former bandname, Ildskjaer was dismissed in -95 when we took on the name Keep Of Kalessin. But then after releasing two albums on Avantgarde Music, we split up because of personal disputes and the band was put on ice. At the time I was very tired of the whole scene and I needed to take a few steps back although I continued to make music and had plans to re-form the band at some point.
After a while I started playing with Bloodthorn here in Trondheim, but it only lasted for a month or so because I then got the opportunity to join Satyricon’s live line-up.
While touring with Satyricon, did it occur to you to try and become a full member of that already established band rather than pursuing another project of your own?
I never thought about that. Satyricon constists of only Satyr and Frost and has been that way for years. I wouldn’t have any interest in joining as a full member. From day one, my goal was to re-build Keep Of Kalessin on the side.
Have the rape charges that were dismissed against you from the 2004 incident in Toronto while on tour with Satyricon caused any problems with international touring and getting work visas? What was the final outcome of these charges, as much was made when they were filed but little of when they were dismissed?
I haven’t had any problems with it so far. I’ve been to the US and Canada several times after that incident. The charges were withdrawn and as easy as we were arrested they just put a stamp on our papers to withdraw the charges. Media loves to put the stamp “rapist” in your forehead, but don’t care much when it’s all a lie so they never wrote about it when the charges were dropped of course.
Coming from Norway and your roots being in black metal, do you feel any musical allegiance to the Norwegian forefathers (AKA Emperor, Mayhem, Immortal, Darkthrone, etc.) or is KoK’s music in a completely different vein?
Nowadays, I think Keep Of Kalessin is very different than most bands, but we also have a strong relationship with the bands you mention. We grew up listening to them so it’s only natural. But, I actually think that we have just as much in common with early Metallica, Iron Maiden and Guns ‘n’ Roses as to any black metal band. It’s a mix between a lot of genres, but without being to schizofrenic about it like like jumping from a heavy metal riff to a black metal riff. We mold it all together in each single riff.
Your early albums featured lyrics in your native language of Norwegian. Will you ever return to your mother tongue or will Keep of Kalessin record exclusively in English?
It’s nothing we have thought about in the last few years, but who knows. If someone in the band will write a cool norwegian lyric, I wouldn’t mind using it. But in our musical style of today, I think english lyrics are a better match for the atmosphere.
A lot of the online forum discussion regarding “black metal” contains a lot of arguring with “this isn’t black metal” or “this isn’t pure enough to be black metal” etc etc. Do you partake in, or read fans online ravings about the genre, or are you too busy with the real world?
I read some of it, but I only get frustrated of how fucking stupid the majority of people are. I mean, why care if it’s black metal or not? What’s the point in that? I don’t consider Keep Of Kalessin black metal anyway. It’s a mixture of thrash, black, death and heavy metal. With inspirations from everything from trance to movie soundtracks. That’s why we call it extreme metal instead. Epic Extreme Metal.
But it’s also very obvious that it will take a lot more time for us for the majority of the metal scene to understand what we’re really about and the musicianship behind it. Nowadays, your average metal-head will want easy hooks all the time and only gives a song 30 seconds on myspace before deciding what it’s all about. It’s sad, because the really good music gets lost along the way. It’s more status to have 3000 songs on your Ipod, than to have 3 albums that you listen to 1000 times each.
As a former drummer, do you still play or have you given that up completely to focus on guitar?
I was never really a drummer, I simply played drums in Ildskjaer, but I always was a guitarist. I soon understood that if we were going to get somewhere we needed a proper drummer so we recruited Vyl and changed the named to Keep Of Kalessin.
Since ARMADA was so well-received by press and fans, did you have any concerns about being able to top it with KOLOSSUS?
Not really. I just write the music I want to listen to myself and after writing the first couple of songs, I knew that Kolossus was going to be just as good.
Like ARMADA, KOLOSSUS is a big, epic-sounding album. Does the black metal youth in you cringe at creating such a well-produced record as opposed to the narrow, stifled “kvlt” stuff that Norwegian black metal is famous for?
I want to push the boundaries of my own achievements and also the boundaries of black metal. Like I said, I don’t consider myself a “black metal person” anymore. I mean, I have many of the same views I did earlier and I still like black metal, but it’s not a challenge for me to write simple black metal. And with that I mean that the “true” black metal bands of today are no more true than Keep Of Kalessin. Most of them are just copycats of earlier bands like Darkthrone or Bathory anyway, so what makes them more black metal than us, really? At least we’re a band that don’t give a fuck about the rules of the underground and do whatever we want. And that’s more black metal than anyone who’s afraid of going against the norms of a underground scene!
KOLOSSUS was apparently recorded without the use of any copying/pasting or clipping techniques, and all instruments are recorded in real time. Why do you feel this is important?
We wanted to capture the natural feeling of the instruments. In today’s metal scene it’s easier to hear what kind of producer or drum plugin that’s being used than who’s actually playing drums. I think the production side of metal albums has reached it’s peak. They’re all so fucking boring! Everything sounds perfect, and perfect is boring….at least to me.
There are more varied vocals and even some rippin solos on the new album. Why did you only start busting them out now?
We never had skills, budget or time to do things properly in the past. It wasn’t until Armada that we started to get things right. I always knew we had the potential, but everyone was working against me all those years so it was impossible to get my whole ideas down on tape in the early days. It’s also just the natural development of a band to try and break old boundaries.
For many, KOLOSSUS is the first they’ve heard of you whether it be because of signing to Nuclear Blast or touring with Dimmu Borgir. How do you think this new album compares to your past works and what did you strive to accomplish differently this time?
Kolossus is a natural successor to an album like Armada. For anyone who is listening to Kolossus I would say that you definitely should check out Armada as well. Those two are very close connected, but still also very different from eachother.
Many say that we have changed our style a lot since the first albums, but I always try to explain that it’s not THAT different. Because if you listen to the second album (Agnen), for instance, you can hear that I started developing the Keep Of Kalessin riffing-style already on that album. There are a lot of similarities between Agnen from 1999 and Armada from 2006. It’s just that we didn’t nail it on Agnen and the album suffered from a bad production.
I always strive to do better than the previous album and try to do something different as well, but without going too far from what I’ve done before. I always have an overall theme or atmosphere I want to achieve on an album and I work towards that.
What made you choose Nuclear Blast Records for the release of KOLOSSUS?
They are true fans of Keep Of Kalessin and proved that over and over again in the dealings we had with them. And they are one of the best metal labels out there.
You have your own label, Morningstar Records. Why not self-release Keep of Kalessin’s music on that label instead of through another?
After 2 years of writing and producing an album, I’m very glad that I can give it to someone else to promote and release it. It would be way too much work for me if I was going to do everything myself on that part as well. And besides, we don’t have even close to the same distribution network as Nuclear Blast.
Some bands are now saying that CD sales are so low, that touring and merch sales are the only way to make a living playing music. With bands who tour as little as yourselves, how do you survive with music as your sole source of income?
Well, first of all, we almost don’t survive. And even so, we’re actually the norwegian band that is touring the most right now. But we only made it to the states two times. But we’re starting to play 150-200 shows every year, so I wouldn’t call that touring “little”.
Then again, people think that bands are making money on touring and merch sales, which is also false. As the CD sales are going down, more and more bands will disappear because it’s not possible for small and medium sized bands to survive even from playing 200-300 shows a year. There are too many expenses from touring so you need to be a decent sized band to actually survive from it.
What differentiates the Keep of Kalessin that we hear pre-breakup on the first two records to that who we hear on the last two?
The previous line-up was a young band with potential, but due to the fact that people within my own band worked against me I wasn’t able to push the band back then.
Nowadays, we are a more mature band and everyone is pulling in the same direction, which ofcourse makes a big difference on everything from touring to producing albums.
KOLOSSUS’ opening track, “Origin,” features the same riff as the closing track, “Ascendant.” Given its cyclical nature, is KOLOSSUS a concept album like ARMADA was?
It’s even more of a concept album than Armada. In fact, the two are close connected both musically and lyrically. Kolossus picks up where Armada left off and continues the story.
There are a lot of Middle Eastern/Mediterranean (“Kolossus”) and even Spanish/flamenco influences (“Origin”) found throughout the new album. Is the music from these regions a favorite of yours?
I don’t listen to that kind of music that often, but I like those kind of melodies and rythms etc. But I get most of my ethnic inspirations secondary from other musical genres like movie soundtracks and trance music with that kind of influences. And I make most of my own songs on acoustic guitar so it gives a different feel to the riffs than normal metal.
What do you say to those who criticize the band and say you “sold out” with your more melodic sound on ARMADA and KOLOSSUS?
Well, there’s probably nothing I can say to make them change their mind, but I really think that metal people should be more open minded than they are. The metal scene is often infected by a lot of narrow minded people. What the hell is a sell out anyway? Someone who looks at his band as a job, or the underground metal-head that works in the local gas station?
It’s ok for metal fans to go to an Iron Maiden or Metallica concert, but suddenly if a “black metal” band is pulling a crowd, it’s sell-out?
We make the music we wanna listen to and I don’t even think about how the album is going to be received when I’m making it. It just happens to be a lot of other people in this world that likes the same kind of music as I do.
Musically, I’ve seen ARMADA and KOLOSSUS compared to everyone from Opeth to Emperor. I know musicians usually hate to nail down their sound but to someone who hasn’t heard the band’s music before, can you offer a short description?
It’s hard to describe, because I would say that I’m more inspired by epic heavy metal than black metal…..I mean songs like “Alexander the great” from Iron Maiden and “Keeper of the seven keys” from Helloween, but it’s all mixed in with a lot blastbeats and extreme metal. I think fans of any metal genre should check us out.
A track like “The Mark of Power” shows Keep of Kalessin isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of extreme metal. Do you impose any limitations on what you bring into a Keep of Kalessin album musically-speaking?
No, I don’t like any kind of limitations. I listen to so much different music myself and I’m not afraid of bringing anything into the band. The limit will always be the fact that I need to write proper songs and not just jump from one part to another without any passage or meaning to it.
Like Immortal and Therion, Keep of Kalessin has a lyricist who does not play with the band. Why do you or one of the other members not write the lyrics yourselves?
Torstein is more like a consultant now than what he was on Reclaim and Armada. I tell him the overall concept and story of an album and then he can formulate things better than me in english. On Kolossus the whole band wrote lyrics and we used Torstein just to look over our lyrics and come up with alternative writing and some new ideas where we were stuck.
Are you doing any other videos from KOLOSSUS?
We’re not sure yet, but I’d like to do a new video. In fact, I’d like to do several videos, but it’s all about the money you know. We don’t have money to do it like I want so then we’ll probably just skip it.
The only criticism I can make of KOLOSSUS is that there are many places on the album where the riffing has a certain groove and tempo that I imagine slower more grooving drums would fit. However, the drumming often goes over the top with the speed and blasting to the point where it sometimes does not fit the riff and takes away from the feel. You are so close to the music and this style that you probably don’t view things in the same way as someone from the outside. So can you see where I’m coming from here…or maybe you just think anyone that doesn’t like the blasting is some kind of poseur? Ha!
I understand what you’re saying, but I disagree. Hehe. I fuckin’ love blastbeats!! We have so much melody and flow to the songs and I think that blastbeats gives a natural flow on riffs like that. A lot of times we use blastbeats in the beginning of the song and then we use the same riff later in the song, but with slower drum arrangements and stuff like that. But if we were to do this all the time, and skip too much of the blasting, I think the album would be way to soft.
We’re working on adding more different drum arrangements on the next album because like I said, I love blastbeats on an album, but I think in a live situation you definately need more variation. But I also don’t wanna be one of those bands that jump from one part to another just to have the variation there. It’s important for me to keep the songstructure and this also means throwing away 70% of the best riffs because I just have to wait until they really fit into a song.
You recently finished up playing 24 dates spanning North America and Canada as part of "The Invaluable Darkness Tour Part 2 – Legions Of The Chosen Few" on a much anticipated package rounded out by Poland’s Behemoth and Norway’s Dimmu Borgir. Having said that, did this latest stateside jaunt reap a significant amount of interest and well deserved recognition for Keep Of Kalessin?
The tour with Dimmu and Behemoth was definitely one of the best tours we’ve done. Great bands to tour with and a very strong package that drew a very big crowd every night! We can see that there are some people in North America that have started to recognize Keep Of Kalessin, but we also need to work a lot more to get to the level of the other two touring bands that have done several tours in the US already. But as an introduction to America it couldn’t have been better for us!
Are there any plans for a North American tour in 2009?
We just finished a run with Kataklysm a month ago and we’re also working on even a new tour in 2009, but we’re touring Europe a lot now so it’s starting to be difficult to find enough time.
If you could tour with any band, who do think would make a fitting and realistic match that would draw a lot of people?
We want to tour with Immortal!!
Bands like Satyricon and Dimmu Borgir have made tremendous strides in conquering the North American market in recent years. Do you foresee Keep of Kalessin being next in line to reap the rewards that North American success offers an underground European band?
Yes, I hope so! America is a big market and it’s a great country to tour in so we’d love to have some success over there and will work hard to achieve it. But then again, Keep Of Kalessin is very different than the american metal and may have a harder time to get through to the metal fans over there.
Will Keep of Kalessin continue as a single guitar entity or will you utilize a second guitarist for your live shows?
We will continue with one guitarist, but always try to build the sound up to the level of sounding like more than a four-piece. We’re getting closer every day!
Given the fact that you (Obsidian) write all the music and is considered the “leader” of Keep of Kalessin, are the rest of the guys hired hands or is this truly a “band”?
This is a band!
You are also in the thrash metal band Headspin (www.myspace.com/headspin666) with the great guitarist Marcus Silver (Triosphere, ex-Griffin) along with KoK drummer Vyl and bassist Wizziac. How did you get involved with that band, and what can you tell us about what the band will be doing in the coming months?
For the time being, this band consist only of me, Vyl and Wizziac. The three of us has recorded all the songs for the album, but vocals are still missing. Wizziac is working on this, but due to the fact that Keep Of Kalessin is so busy I don’t know when we’ll get time to finish this album. We’ll just have to wait and see.
From what I’ve heard Marcus play in his other 2 bands, Headspin is more of a musical stretch for him in terms of playing heavier. Would you consider making more of a stretch to playing less extreme metal then thrash metal into more traditional metal or another genre?
I play any kind of music. I’ve made many heavy metal songs, acoustic music, pop, film music, you name it. I’m thinking about releasing some of it some day, but it will have to wait until Keep Of Kalessin slows down.
It is mentioned on the Headspin myspace that part of the reason why you started the band was because you wanted an outlet for your thrash metal influences and you didn’t like how those riffs, songs, or ideas were changing KoK. So why was it important to not allow some of the songs on the KoK album to be more thrashy? Do you feel that a band should stick to one style or, play a mixture of metal styles all on the one album?
There’s a lot of thrash metal in Keep Of Kalessin, but I also think that making it too much thrash metal would ruin the unique and epic feeling in the band. Headspin is a very simple band where we never think too much about the songs we create. It’s very easy to run this band as there is no mess around it. We get to a gig, can play whatever equipment that is there. Keep Of Kalessin is a much, much bigger machinery and I think it also should be that way.
Are Vyl and Thebon still involved with their other project, Sublitrium?
Vyl recorded drums on their new album, I think. But as far as a member goes, he’s out.
END DRAWS NEAR
What bands have you been listening to lately and what from your CD collection do you listen to often that might surprise some of your fans?
Infected Mushroom and Bal-Sagoth are my #1 these days.
What other things will KoK be doing this year and into 2009 that you’d like to let people know about?
We’re off on a 4 week european tour and just make it home for christmas. Then we’re going to tour a lot in Europe and hopefully also US the first halph of next year. We’re also planning to record a live DVD and in October we’re releasing a new album and judging from the songs we’ve already written it will be the best album we’ve done so far!
Thanks for your time and all the best to you!
Thanks for the interview!
Official Site: www.keepofkalessin.no