Dimmu Borgir – interview met Silenoz
Silenoz: “I like the lo-fi stuff more than anything else really, but that is not what Dimmu Borgir is presenting”
Next year Dimmu Borgir celebrates its 30th anniversary with several shows with focus on older songs. They are working on a new album, but in the meantime they enhance the celebration with a collection of all their covers on one album called ‘Inspiratio Profanus’ as homage to their influential outfits. That nostalgia was the reason for contacting guitarist Silenoz and have a debonair conversation about his influences, the past and a sneak preview of the future.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 19 december 2023
How are you doing at the moment?
I am doing very good actually. We are really creative at the moment as we speak and we look forward to the shows we are going to do next year as part of the 30 years anniversary thing that we start in August in Bergen, so I am looking forward to that. We start in our hometown, our capital. Inferno will be the first or second show on our 30 years celebration.
Is there a chance that you will come over to Spain or the Benelux to do those shows as well?
We are going to play the festival Legendos del Rock in Spain, that’s going to be in August I think and it looks like we are going to play Dynamo Metal Fest in the Netherlands, so that will be very cool I guess.
This conversation has a semblance of nostalgia and melancholy. Let us dive into the past… How and at what age did you come in contact with music?
That must have been when I was two or three years old. It was Elvis on the radio. I was like flabbergasted and then I specifically remember I heard on the radio that Bob Marley had passed away. I was listening to the radio and I remember they announced it, so that was something which had to do directly with music. That really intrigued my mind as far as I remember.
Did your parents or brothers and sisters have any influence of the forming of your taste?
(chuckles) Not really. My family hasn’t been that musically. My grandfather played the tuba and my mom’s mother played the guitar and a little bit of keyboards and stuff and my mom also played a little bit on the keyboard but apart from that, I was totally self-taught when it comes to my instrument. I am not a really technical player, but I have a good ear when you speak of melodies, so yes, so I guess now I am too old to care about music theory, but I think I picked up a lot of stuff along the way and that has shaped my way of looking at music, listening to music. Knowing that music is just another form of art and another form of medium and me as a musician is somehow a medium that channels those creative waves into the ether as you can say.
Of course there are all kinds of genres. When you were a kid or a teenager. what were your favourite styles?
Since I grew up in the early eighties, eighties heavy metal and hard rock. Music has always been my main influence I guess you can say and then of course when I started playing in my teens, I discovered that there was more extreme stuff out there and that obviously shaped me even more, because I always looked at music and the imagery and all that stuff has a full package if you know what I mean. To me it is like growing up with Judas Priest and Kiss and Iron Maiden and Dio and Twisted Sister and W.A.S.P. and stuff and you know that it goes hand in hand: the music and the imagery and then you have a full package. I have always been a huge fan of that and I think also when we got into more extreme music, when we got into black metal, then you can find your home basically, because you’ve got the best of both worlds. You got this extreme stuff on the musical side and then the extreme stuff on the imagery side.
Indeed, Dimmu Borgir was one of the first bands I learned to appreciate from the North, from Scandinavia, because the first wave a bit too heavy for me with minor production, I was only into it when it became more melodic…
I think it is important to incorporate melodies to music, because if there is no hint of melody at all, then it cannot be classified as music let’s say, because it is just noise. Personally I am also a huge fan of lo-fi and old school black metal, brutal stuff. I like the lo-fi stuff more than anything else really, but that is not what Dimmu Borgir is presenting. We had that in the past on the first albums, but our musical landscape requires quite a lot more, you know. So I take a lot inspiration and influence from lo-fi black metal, extreme stuff, but I try to channel that into our own expression into Dimmu and then Dimmu lives its own life basically. It is like a sea monster, you can control it up to a certain point, but then at some point you just have to let it go.
Yes, the fact that you were more melodic also created a number of anti-fans. You got not the respect of the diehards in the first place…
No, indeed, we got a lot of comments from the TRVE ones or the purists or elitists or whatever you want to call it, but the way I see it is that they have actually been helping promoting the band, more than they would ever know, because if you hear about something constantly in a negative way, for someone who is on the outside, he gets intrigued. You have to check out by yourself to see if it is actually true what they say about this and then people go ahead and figure out for themselves and they listen to themselves and maybe they agree: ‘ah he was right’, or maybe they don’t agree and they figure out: ‘oh this music is really something for me’. So actually the so-called purists out there, they have been helping us a lot and promoting the band (laughs). As long as they throw our name out, I am thankful for that. It is the best promotion you can get.
What did you think when bands like Borknagar, In The Woods and Arcturus came out in Norway, because they also mixed those heavier things with progressive avant-garde elements?
I think in essence the first single or EP from Arcturus, back in 1989/1990 that has been inspiring me. I must also say the first Enslaved demo and the first Emperor demo. Also the split album between Emperor and Enslaved was heavily influencing bands like us. A lot of releases in the beginning left their traces: Darkthrone, Mayhem, these are all still bands we are listening to and take inspiration from. So I think in the end we managed to find our own sound. We managed to find our own expression quite early on and I am very proud to say that it was not a premeditated decision, we are just gettng along with the flow the whole time and let the music speak for itself. I think that is part of the artistic success and I am really proud of that.
I can still remember I bought ‘For All Tid’. That was already a very good album!
Yeah at that time we were very young and we did not have any budget to go into a fancy studio or anything like that, but I think, listening back to the album now, it has still a lot of potential and it shows what young kids can actually do when they have focus enough. I think it still has a charm and I still enjoy playing some of these old songs live, because it is part of the history of the band.
In the 30th anniversary shows you will probably play more old songs than ever…
It is very hard, it is a really luxurious challenge when you have so many albums to chose from and trying to seep everything into a live set. You know there are certain songs that you cannot get away from playing and you know there are certain songs that we, the band, want to play as well. There are so many things to consider when you are putting a setlist together. You just know that you cannot make everybody happy, but if you try to accommodate everybody’s needs in that sense, I think it is bound to be a good live show. This is another reason to do more of those shows, you know, because you can mix up the setlist on every occasion.
It is also important to reflect and go back in time, because the legacy of a band is very important I think…
Yes and I think it is also important to show the fans that have been there from the beginning and are still following us to show them respect. They obviously know that for us it is difficult to choose a setlist. It is a good challenge in that sense.
Can you reflect on growing up in Norway in the seventies and eighties? How did you live? Was it possible to buy many albums, was there radio, something on television?
Yeah there was radio. I managed to listen to on Saturday – I think it was every week a quarter passed five every Saturday – there was a Swedish radio show (because we got Swedish radio as well) called Rock Box and from the mid eighties till 1990/1991 that program was on every Saturday or any second Saturday, I can’t remember, but I was always ready with my cassette deck and recording everything. The DJ was playing everything, from hair metal to really extreme metal, even back then. That is how I discovered quite a few bands and I still have got these tapes and sometimes once in a while I put the tapes on just to get the nostalgic feeling. Obviously back then it was some radio of that era. You didn’t get a clear signal, so you had like this static sound on top of the songs, but it brings me back to the eighties. I grew up in the countryside and I still live in the countryside, back at the farm I worked. There was a local record shop, not so far from here and that’s where I managed to go also during the day on Saturday, sitting around and just waiting for announcements on new records that were going to come out, three or six months ahead. This was before I was old enough to know that the tape trading started. That came more in the early nineties and that is how another world opened up, with tape trading with people all over the world. It was such an amazing time to be alive! (chuckles)
These are the first kicks in life…
Yeah when you get something in the mail, let’s say from Nicaragua or Poland or whatever, you just knew that on this tape there was going to be something new that I had never heard and vice versa, so it was a great way to discover the more extreme side of the underground metal.
Did you also have MTV with Headbanger’s Ball?
Yes, we got that in the early nineties as well. I think it was all pretty late though. During the day MTV was more regular music, but the metal freaks got their triple thrash treat at least hehe. So that was always cool. We recorded a lot of it down to the edges. I still have some of those tapes as well.
Let us zoom in on some of the bands you covered on this compilation of covers. Let us start with Venom. When did you discover them and did you see them live?
I guess I discovered them with the first VHS video actually, called ‘The 7th Date Of Hell’ in 1987 (release was in 1984 – Vera) before hearing the albums. I was really intrigued by this tape, it made an impact. I didn’t really tasted music yet at that time, this was like the mid eighties. That came on later when I discovered: ‘ah this is more or less the same as Motörhead’ haha. The same attitude, the rebel vibe. That ‘Take No Prisoners’ type of feeling. That is what I really appreciated in Venom for a long time. When we took ‘Black Metal’ as cover, it was no statement in genre, we could have taken another song from Venom of course, but we decided on ‘Black Metal’.
Of course very appropriate, because you are one of the main bands from the black metal scene. Weird that they have chosen this title long before the genre came up…
Yes I think they were the ones that claimed that phrase first. That’s a statement right there. It was cool to do our version of such an influential song and band. I remember that Venom was one of Euronymous favourite bands and many people from the Norwegian black metal scene love Venom, not only because of the music, but possibly because of the imagery and that stuff. It goes hand in hand as I said earlier. It is like a full package.
They also had a kind of rebellious vibe in the vein of Motörhead…
Obviously I am not going to use the name ‘punk’ in the same room as Venom, but they also started something and obviously the Scandinavian scene, Sweden and Norway and also Finland I would say, they took it to another level of extremity. That’s when ‘the danger’ (chuckles) reached a much higher level if you know what I mean. Really cool times.
Talking about punk and hardcore, we have the cover from G.G.F.H. How did you get infected by those genres?
Well I am also not such a huge fan, but I appreciate The Sex Pistols and The Misfits and Ramones and other bands, but metal was my thing and my escape. ‘Born In The USA’ from Bruce Springsteen and ‘Stay Hungry’ from Twisted Sister were my two first cassettes that I actually bought from my own money. Before that I only had tapes that I recorded from the radio and from fans and so. I was still pretty young back then, so that was my first two proper tapes, which I still have today of course.
Another cover is ‘Perfect Strangers’ from Deep Purple. That’s exactly the time when I saw Deep Purple live for the first time. What about you and what is your connection with the song?
Also for me. I had heard Deep Purple before, but ‘Perfect Strangers’ came out in 1984 and I think around that time I also discovered the band profoundly. Ever since the early 2000’s we had plans to record that song, but we didn’t get to round it off until 2009. It took us about ten years to decide ‘okay let us record it’. because we’ve just been talking about it and we wanted to do it for long, so…
Difficult song maybe?
No… not that difficult. You can also make it a little bit your own, that’s why we pulled in the drum triplet on the kick drums that we are known for, to incorporate something of our own stuff. Galder did an extra melody on top of the solo to make it more Dimmufied. It came out really cool. We kept the organ of course, that is such a big part of that song.
Accept is another dinosaur of that time. When did you discover them?
Again, that must have been mid or late eighties. I can’t remember which song it was I heard on that Rock Box radio show, it might as well be ‘Midnight Mover’. We recorded that song ‘Metal Heart’ in 1998 I think. That was another cool thing to do. We actually played that a few times live as well. I am really proud on that song too, because I think we made it sound like our own. It is somewhat unexpected and fresh I think.
‘Burn In Hell’ is the next cover, from Twisted Sister…
Up until ‘Come Out & Play’ things are cool, but I think ‘Stay Hungry’ is their latest blast, proper album, for me at least. So when they announced they were going to rerecord the ‘Stay Hungry’ album some years ago, I was like ‘okay’ but then when I listened to it, I was like ‘you know what? I am going back to listening to the original’ and that is how I understand how our fans think about our re-recordings. Especially the ‘Stormblast’ album. Many comments like ‘no I like the original’. Okay fine, that’s cool. So yes, I am staying with the original ‘Stay Hungry’ album that had a really huge impact on my musical life, and again we could have taken another song of that album, but I think ‘Born In Hell’ obviously speaks for itself. For a band like us, it had to be that song (chuckles).
I have the same feeling now that Paradise Lost announced they are going to rerecord ‘Icon’. ‘Icon’ is an icon!
Yeah I have heard that! It can be very different reasons for doing that, because in our position, we did the ‘Stormblast’ album, also because the original was not in circulation, and it is an impactful album, so we were also in that sense forced to rerecord it to regain our rights. Obviously now we own the rights to ourselves, the original as well, so we’ll see what we’ll do in the future about that. So for Paradise Lost rerecording ‘Icon’, it could be for many different reasons they do that.
Let us go to another famous band: Bathory, although they never played live…
No, but I think they were supposed to play live. They were set up for a US tour as far as I know, but they never played live that day. Bathory obviously had a huge impact on the Scandinavian scene and the worldwide underground. They really opened up the floodgates in that sense. We took that number which is maybe a little bit more in a rebellious rock-‘n-roll style. Bathory really made it dark. Those things combined and the artefacts, the imagery and all that stuff, it is creating a really special atmosphere and the word atmosphere is always connected to the way I see black metal and extreme music. If it is not atmosphere, I cannot consider it black metal, even if the bands themselves self-proclaim that they are black metal, but if I don’t get atmosphere from it, to me, then it is not. It needs to invoke that special atmospheric feeling.
In the end music is a very personal sensation you cannot predict, like with all arts…
Yeah if you look at a painting in a museum, we are going to see the painting differently, although there’s always going to be a common thread of how they are going to be reacting. The painting can be light or dark, so there are common dominators that connect us to the art and that is the great thing about art, because we don’t see it the same way. You see it from an individual standpoint and that is exactly what art should be all about.
Don’t you have favourites in doom metal?
Oh yeah, absolutely! Obviously Candlemass has had a huge impact on me. The most recent years I really got into The 11th Hour from Holland. I really like those two, three albums they released. I am also into death/doom stuff, more American underground doom bands, there’s tons in that genre as well that cross my mind. You need the slow and the heavy as well and the fast stuff and the more upbeat stuff. It is like with Dimmu, it is not a three course meal, it more like a seventeen course kind of meal (chuckles).
Celtic Frost from Switzerland is another respected band you covered, even two versions of the song ‘Nocturnal Fear’. Why?
I think we were experimenting a little bit on the vocal side and we could not decide which one, so we decided: why don’t we just put both of them on the album? It came from the original ‘Devil’s Path’ EP that we did in 1996. When we were in the studio, Shagrath was doing two different kind of vocal styles. One he did the way he sings and then another one which is more influenced by the way Tom Fischer does his vocals, so it was very difficult to choose. So we decided to put both on the EP and that particular ‘Devil’s Path’ EP was actually the one that got the attention of Markus Staiger at Nuclear Blast. We had ‘Stormblast’ before, but then things started to happen really fast because we got signed and obviously we had songs for the next album already, but we had to do it really fast because we had the studio booked with Peter Tägtgren in the Abyss. That was really good times as well and I think most fans, the diehard fans at least, they can draw clear similarities from the ‘Stormblast’ album to the ‘Enthrone Darkness Triumphant‘ album, because the atmosphere kind of slips into the ‘Enthrone’ album. Several songs might have been also on the ‘Stormblast’ album, but the main difference is obviously in the production of the two albums. With Peter in the Abyss we got a mighty production sound; but if you would strip off the layers of production you would see some songs could have been on both albums. But that’s more to the nerds, the Dimmu nerds out there, to talk about I guess (laughs).
Why did you decide to remaster these covers?
That’s because of the different masters from the different eras. When we decided to collect them all under one plate basically, we obviously had to go into the studio and utilize and get them on the same page. It is more about the levels or anything – they haven’t been re-mixed – they are just put on a different master level, so they are more in the same vein basically. We have been talking about putting the covers out for about eight or ten years. I think maybe some people think it is only another money grabbing but if you are really thinking about it, it is not. It is actually an expense because there are so many different members playing these songs, previous members of the band and stuff like that. We just wanted to release something before the new album coming out and people don’t have to buy it obviously, because they are free in doing that. This is just a way, for the newer fans, to get all the cover songs on one release and with a proper master. I think it is just a cool artefact to have in the collection and I don’t think we will do any more covers in the future. So this is the way to show our tribute and homage to some of the influences that we have had through the years and still listen to. Obviously we have way more influences than these eight songs, but it is just a tiny little peek into our influences. There will be no part II, that is not on our horizon. We are fully immersed into finalizing the new songs for the next album. We are working on our own songs and we don’t want to have any cover songs taking away the focus from our own stuff.
What can you already say about the new material for the new album?
It is hard to say because I am too close to it. I think it is going to be a lot of variation, that I can say for sure. We haven’t been finished with the full song-writing, but we have skeletons for a lot of songs. I think if we would want to, we could probably make a double album. (laughs) So much material and great material… obviously the challenge for us has never been coming up with enough material, that’s not a problem. That is easy, but the challenge is in producing ourselves and kind of erasing the things that doesn’t make the essence. We want to include all the things we are known for and to find the best chords and the best pieces and the best themes, and put it all together, it is a long process. We could have easily done an ‘Enthrone Darkness Triumphant’ album part II, but what would be the point of that, because first of all, you compete with one of the big albums in our catalogue and then that original ‘Enthrone Darkness Triumphant’ wouldn’t be special anymore because you have another album which is competing with it. To me, as an artist, that is not being creative, that’s not being right. If you copy something that you have done in the past, it sounds thin. Obviously there’s going to be parts on the new album that you can trace back to the first album, but the way we write songs now is different from when we wrote songs 20 and 30 years ago.
There is always a balance to find between what fans expect and what fans are surprised by…
The way I see it is, if a band or an artist makes songs by the heart, not by the head, and you are happy with what you are doing, and you like what you hear yourself that you put together as a band, then surely the fans will appreciate it. There will always be negative comments or fans who are disappointed, but as long as you stand behind what you do with your heart, there should be people out there who are going to love it, just the same as you do. I think that should be the number 1 advice that you would take when you write music. First of all you have to write it for yourself. When you release it, then it is out of your hands anyway. All you can do is saying: this is the best we can do at the moment. If you do your best, nothing can hurt you in a sense.
When you are on stage and you see people having a good time, it must be a glorious moment…
It is, for me, I always love creating songs and building songs from scratch and putting all the layers on and going back and forth. Some songs are easier to finish than other songs, that’s the way it goes, but I think the cream of the cake is when you get to perform those songs live, you know. For an audience and to finally share the energy that you had when creating the songs. You share that energy with the fans and the audience. There is nothing to compete with that feeling.