Immortal – interview met Harald ‘Demonaz’ Nævdal (vocals, guitars)
Demonaz: “My goal is to write timeless music, so I hope that I will succeed in that. I grew up with the seventies and eighties music and also thrash metal and I think you can hear that. It reflects in the music. So if you want the music to be cold, powerful and very insisting, this is the way for me to do it”
Het Noorse Immortal heeft nu al een geschiedenis van meer dan dertig jaar vulkanische activiteiten. Explosief bij momenten, sluimerend in rustigere periodes. Er is altijd wel iets gaande in verborgen werelden en dan plots is er weer een eruptie van ‘mighty ravendark music’. Sinds einde mei is de opvolger van ‘Northern Chaos Gods’ verkrijgbaar via Nuclear Blast, met als titel ‘War Against All’. Zo lijkt het wel, want na het vertrek van Abbath in 2015 was de bezetting enkel nog Demonaz en drummer Horgh. Momenteel blijft er enkel Demonaz over om de band op de rails te plaatsen. Daar is hij echter glorieus in geslaagd. We hadden een weldoordachte conversatie met Demonaz, de man achter de legendarische band.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 31 mei 2023
I could find out that you prefer the writing process a little bit more than recording an album, how do you look back at this writing process? Which mood were you in?
Normally I write music all the time. When I started writing this album, ‘War Against All’ was the first song I wrote. Normally I have a plan. You know, you make a plan for it, but when you come to the fourth or the fifth song, it changes a bit. Then you know: ‘Okay, I have this five songs and it goes in that direction.’ The plan falls apart a bit, because you have to work by your stomach feeling. But I think it is always the same: trying to make a better album than the one before in a way, even if it is not a competition, but it is like trying to put the best into the songs with riffs and just follow your heart or your guts.
Indeed, after all these years I can understand that there must be a preferred way of working…
You learn from the past. The first and best thing is being in a creative process, making songs and getting finally riffs and being in that exciting process. When you create something that comes on an album, it is an exciting period. I need to do that in the autumn and the winter usually, because then the mood is strongest. So in the summer I don’t write so much music. In June and July I take all the strings from my guitars and put them away (laughs).
I can understand, because it is really winter metal that you are making all the time. In that respect I was wondering: did Immortal engendered from your personality or did you become part of it in the long run? The other way around, starting to look like the image you have in Immortal now or was it already there in the beginning?
My family, my mother is from the North of Norway. Up there it is very cold, you know. It is very dark, so I think maybe something comes from that. It feels like it is in my blood. Always when I looked at pictures when I was younger, I had this feeling from a very young age. When it was dark outside, there was like this mood. I moved from Bergen four years ago. It was a long dream come true to have a house by the glaciers and close by the mountains. Now I live in Hardanger region. You can see the snow on the mountains the whole year around from my house, so I live at the foot of the glacier Folgefonna. It is fantastic.
Then you daily realize that nature is so much bigger than human beings…
Of course. That is my whole inspiration, from the start. It is not something you can control. We cannot control the winter or the darkness or the nature and that is what’s so fascinating about it. Bringing that expression in music, that is a powerful feeling, so that is my one and only inspiration. I could never write about religion or politics, not at all. That would be really uninspiring.
Although, when I looked at the title ‘War Against All’, that can be reflected on you because of your trouble with Horgh and then also on our planet…
Well, there is always a war on the planet. I think no matter when this record would come out, there’ll always be a war somewhere. When I wrote the song, it was a battle song, right? Like ‘Northern Chaos Gods’ or ‘All Shall Fall’ or ‘Blizzard Beasts’ or ‘Battles In The North’, all battle songs with an opening prospect. It is kind of feature or trademark from Immortal, battle songs, so the war against all was a natural title for a first song and then I wrote ‘Return To Cold’. I wrote another one in that style, but it didn’t fit, so I decided to go for that first title. I think it is a bit like ‘Kill ‘em All’. It is also a fair title. I don’t go to war to conquer land or people. It is all.
For the second time – just as with ‘Northern Chaos Gods’ – you recorded the album in a kind of Enslaved realm…
Yes, well those are the people who work with music in the studio in Bergen, not much of a choice. I like to work with Ice Dale, because he is a person who understands my music and he is also a great guy. He is a good producer and a good guitar player. He knows what he is doing, so for me, to work with him is very nice and very easy. I worked with Ice Dale before on ‘Northern Chaos Gods’. I did the vocals with him in his studio and the guitars. I decided at that point I wanted to go back there, because I thought we could do great things together.
And you could stay in Norway, because Peter Tägtgren is living in Sweden…
I would like to work with him again, with Peter also, but this time we decided to do it this way and also with the pandemic… there was a lot of trouble. It took five years, very strange, because the album was finished one and a half year earlier. The mastering was finished in 2021, the 18th of November actually. There were delays with pressing vinyl and I was asked if I wanted to release it without the vinyl, but no, never. I wanted to be sure to get the vinyl.
There is a song simply called ‘Immortal’ on the new album. Did you always want to do that, write a kind of hymn for the band?
I thought many times earlier that I would make a song ‘Immortal’. I had some lyrics, I had some ideas for that, but on this album finally I found some inspiration to do that. When I had written that song, I felt immediately ‘okay, this is going to be that Immortal song’. So I was looking for it for a long time. This song could easily be on the ‘Battles In The North’ album. It is like an old song, you know. Even if I arranged everything to make that song on this album, I think I could have put it on ‘Battles In The North’. This is old school, old riffs and the tempo and everything could easily be like that.
It is also a wonder that Immortal remains sounding the same. Three persons, two persons, only you… the sound remains so authentic…
I think that sound is reflected through my guitar sound. It is the guitars, it is the way of playing the guitars and it is the technique of playing the guitars. The drum and the bass is not the main instrument. The main instrument is – of course the vocals, the way of singing – but also the way of playing the guitar, the riffs… it was there from the beginning. I had my parts and Abbath has his style, but I think we co-wrote everything together more or less. Of course I wrote maybe most of my things for the first three records, because then I played guitar, but we did co-write more or less everything, so it shines through. A vision. It is easier for the fans to know which riffs we made in the past (chuckles).
When you look back at your debut album ‘Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism’, what kind of feeling overcomes you? How do you look back at the very beginning?
I like those albums very much. It reminds me… those albums represent the time, no matter which album, when the songs were made and it was recorded. I like to listen to the old albums and I always do that sometimes. I go back and I listen and I try to find a piece of magic. Also when I did this album, I listened a bit to ‘Battles In The North’ and ‘Pure Holocaust’. Not just to find inspiration, but to get back. Sometimes it is good to do that.
And in some way probably also a way to return to your inner self of that time…
Yeah it is a part of the way to get inspired. You find some techniques and very often I usually listen to old school records and old music. I have them at home on vinyl or I listen to them when I am outside walking. I never listen to most sacred classic albums, like ‘Battles In The North’ or Bathory, when I go to the city or when I go somewhere where there’s a lot of people. I don’t know why, but I save those albums for good times.
By the way ‘At The Heart Of Winter’ was the first Immortal album I bought when just released, in 1999…
I think the cover of ‘War Against All’ reminds me a bit of ‘At The Heart Of Winter’, when I saw the colours and everything.. I like that and also this album has a bit heavier drums, like the bass drums, and that is also a little hint back to that. I did not want to repeat what we did last time. When we last met, we also talked about the ‘Northern Chaos Gods’ because I was listening to that album also and I wrote everything, all the riffs. Horgh was playing the drums of course and he arranged the drums, but I did everything else. So for me it is like a continuation of what I did on ‘Northern Chaos Gods’ in a way. You can’t escape yourself, you know. I can never write something entirely new. I always have to follow the… it comes naturally, when you sit down and play, you have your style, you have your own way of doing it. Then you just work on the riffs and the things that you like, so I can never shut down and say: now I am going to make an Immortal track, it is going to be an Immortal track anyways. No escape.
I think you are doing well by that, because if you should suddenly change or do something new, it should be very strange for the listener…
People would hate it and I would be totally depressed (laughs)
A song that fascinated me was ‘Nordlandihr’ and it turned out to be instrumental. I did not expect that…
Well, there is a reason for that. When I was working on the song, I was not planning an instrumental song. I thought I would sing on it, but then I realized I had to break free from the vocals and just let the song work on its own. There are a lot of details and it is a marching song, right? It is almost three songs. I made the demo, I put it on a tape recorder and I was listening to it, just the guitars. I played the whole song on guitars and recorded them. Then I was walking in the woods or on the mountain, I don’t remember, and thinking: no way that there are going to be vocals on this. This is freedom. Being a kind of a marching song, I wanted to have different parts in it, which was really longer. The intro was much longer, but I cut it down, because I thought it would be too boring. It is the first time that I make an instrumental, but I didn’t want to make it with a lot of solos, technique and so. I wanted it to be primitive, easy, just like driving.
The music from Immortal is harsh, but also smooth in a way. I mean these days there are more extreme things to listen to… You are still rooted in the original things I have been raised on I think…
Of course. I grew up with the seventies music and I grew up with the eighties music also, thrash metal and I think you can hear that. It reflects in the music. So if you want the music to be cold, powerful and if you want it to be like very insisting, this is the way for me to do it. That is the reflection of what I listen to or what I like, which is like Manowar, Bathory, Metallica first album and also ‘Ride The Lightning’. So maybe it reflects from that, surely the instrumental song. I don’t want to expand, because then it sounds too modern. I think keeping it simple is essential to avoid boring parts.
The last song ‘Blashyrkh My Throne’ sounds like a triumph, isn’t it?
When I write the lyrics, I always write more than what comes on the album. So I have a lot of lyrics everywhere laying in my house and in my books. Sometimes it is fertile to look in these old books to find inspiration, because I always write the lyrics down in books. I found somewhere ‘Blashyrkh My Throne’ and I was thinking: ‘fuck I am going to make that song’. (laughs) And that is the simple story about that song, you know. I wanted to make it powerful, like you said a triumph. I wanted to make a big song and put it at the end of the album. So that was immediately my thought when I was looking through the lyrics. Actually there are a lot of old things on this album. There are a lot of things that I took inspiration from, because I got to move. I moved four years ago – like I told you – and when I moved, I was forced to go through all that old stuff and bring it to the new house. All these papers, a lot of old albums, I had to take everything with me. So a lot of the lyrics are old things, really old, even things from the nineties. I looked through everything, pictures, songs, lyrics and I think a lot of it reflects on the album. Even though the sound of the album is not very much like the nineties, that was difficult to make, the essence of the album is very nineties. For me it is.
You used Ice Dale for the bass and you had Kevin Kvåle as drummer, but will they go on tour with you as well or do you have to recruit new members?
We still have to make a final decision of that. We have lost a lot of time, so now they are busy with other stuff. Since we haven’t rehearsed for a while, we will have to sit down with the management and see what are the opportunities to do and what can we do together. I can’t promise anything at the moment, but if it is the right conditions and the right places, I will consider doing that. I am also a little bit inspired by Quorthon you know, he never played live and I think maybe that is the reason why we got so many albums from him. Maybe if he was touring, there would be less albums. But this time it took a lot of time to release this album. I really wanted it pretty fast and recorded it pretty fast, if it wasn’t for the pandemic, so it should have been out at least one year ago. I really want to make the next one much faster. Not make the music faster, I just don’t want it to take so much time.
Then it is fresher for you when it comes out…
Yeah but my goal is to write timeless music, so I hope that I will succeed in that.
When coming back to ‘At The Heart Of Winter’. What feelings does it bring up with you about that time? We are speaking about the turn of the century, 1999, 2000…
‘At The Heart Of Winter’ was an important album, but it was also the first album that I didn’t play guitar on. We were very inspired when we wrote it, because we were stable together, you know. Although at the same time there was a bit insecurity about whether we could continue or not and we decided to continue to work together on these albums, even if I could not play live or anything. But the truth is that they could not do it without me, because it wouldn’t work, because I was the main writer for the lyrics and we wrote the music together. If we didn’t do it that way, it would be different, so we were just waiting for me to get better. I still played guitar, but I couldn’t do it too much. So it was a little bit a confusing period for us. When ‘Damned In Black’ was recorded, I was not so involved, because I felt like we drew apart a bit. That was the hardest time, ‘Damned In Black’. That album reflects that. It wasn’t a great album. I don’t think so. The others can tell what they want, but ‘Damned In Black’, that is not my favourite album. (laughs) I didn’t contribute so much to that album, you know, I wrote the lyrics, but I even think that the lyrics are not that well. When we did ‘Sons Of Northern Darkness’ there was a great spirit, it was much better, because then we understood that either we had to survive and do the ‘Sons Of Northern Darkness’ album or either we had to break down the band. So we sat down, we came back together and we wrote that album which I think is maybe the best of us three in a way. ‘At The Heart Of Winter’ was a good album, good vibe, but I think ‘Sons Of Northern Darkness’ was better. Everyone can have different opinions, but all these Immortal albums represent a time. I think getting up means also fall. Things were not heading in the right direction. We didn’t have that true spirit, we didn’t have that passion anymore. We ended up compromising with everything and Immortal is not compromising music you know. It doesn’t work. Immortal is insisting, straight to the point, a very determined style and I know how I want it to sound. If I have to compromise with other people, the music will suffer from it. It is better not to do it, and I think these two latest albums probably prove that. This is really where it comes from and if anybody would prefer anything else, they will have to listen to anything else (chuckles).
So with ‘All Shall Fall’ you also had a feeling that it wasn’t optimal?
I thought there was something wrong. There were also some troubles, I think we discussed that before. I think all in all it is much better than a lot of other bands, most bands do two CD’s and they split up you know. I have been in this for thirty years and I never gave up. There have been frustrating periods, but I think from my side it is very easy. I saw the train go over the track, you know, I needed to put it back. I needed to get the rest out of it and put it back on the track where it belongs and make those albums, like ‘Northern Chaos Gods’ and ‘War Against All’ and the next one. I needed to take the band back, because it was going to be destroyed. It was falling apart. That is the only explanation and if I wanted to get back the true vision, it started all in my head. It is all depending on going back in my head and getting back in the mood. Just take it back, you know.
And maybe it was a good thing to move way up northwards, because it is like a new beginning and now you are really on your own there without disturbance and composing…
Yes, I am motivated to continue. I am really happy for Immortal! (chuckles)