You can’t talk about the second wave of black metal without mentioning Immortal. Battles In The North and At The Heart Of Winter are carved with golden letters in the history of extreme music and even if mastermind Demonaz is the only original and staying member of the band now, the tenth Immortal album War Against All (reviewed HERE) is a statement of iron will and determination to keep the flame burning. We are glad we had the chance to talk to Demonaz, who was kind enough to spend half an hour with Velvet Thunder talking about the past, the future and timeless music.
It’s an honor to talk to you for the first time, Demonaz! So, first of all – why War Against All? Is there a hidden message behind the song and album title of the new Immortal album?
-There’s always a hidden message in the Immortal album titles. When you are making music or are writing lyrics that are not political or religious, you have to put some meaning to it anyway. Usually I place the title tracks first on the albums, even if you look back to Battles In The North or Blizzard Beasts or Sons Of Northern Darkness – all of these albums open with a fast song. War Against All was the first song I wrote for this album and I didn’t know that was going to be the title track. I had some riffs for Wargod from before, but when I wrote War Against All I decided that would be the title of the album. It fits, because I thought it also means it’s me and Blashyrkh in a war against all in a way. But it is not pointed at anyone in particular, it was everybody.
Is there something in particular that you intentionally changed for the last two Immortal albums – Northern Chaos Gods and War Against All? They definitely sound much faster and aggressive than All Shall Fall.
-It took a long time to get the band back on track. I thought it was very important to not lose the identity of the band. All Shall Fall was a compromise in a way and Immortal is not a band you can compromise with. I wanted to take it back in a way with less riffs and more atmosphere. It’s more my style. When I started the band, I wrote all the riffs because I was the guitarist. And the expression was mine only. The full songs were co-written by me and Abbath – the other band members never contributed to writing – the drums or the bass parts they played were more like session musicians. My point is that with All Shall Fall the band lost its way and I wanted it back on track. The identity of Immortal for me, and for the fans, is very distinct – it should be recognized within seconds.
War Against All was recorded with Ice Dale (Arve Isdal, Enslaved) on bass and Kevin Kvale on drums. How did they end on the album?
-I wrote the whole album and made demos and I wanted Arve as producer for everything this time. And Arve offered Kevin as the perfect drummer for this album. I sent him demos and then we rehearsed with Kevin and he is so young and wild – he did a great job. I just gave him some instructions.
Almost all of the classic Norwegian bands from the second wave of black metal changed their style over the years – Emperor, Burzum, Darkthrone, Satyricon, Enslaved. What was the reason for Immortal to stay so close to its original style all these years after?
-Maybe it’s because I am extremely dedicated to this music. When I grew up with bands like Bathory, Celtic Frost, Manowar, Slayer there was always this fear that your favorite band would wimp out to sell a million albums. And I never want to do that – do an album that I would regret doing. I tried my best to keep the true expression that I developed in the beginning. I don’t want to sell a million albums, I want to make the ultimate music.
There is a fictional world where most of the stories in your lyrics take place. Have you ever thought about writing a book about the world of Blashyrkh?
-Even a movie has been on offer but I don’t have the time for that. When I write lyrics for an album, I come up with nearly five hundred pages, so I have a lot of material, really. I actually started writing a book earlier and I have a lot of notes for it, but it hasn’t happened until now. Putting the lyrics into the music is the greatest for me, that’s where my work belongs. I don’t know if a book will be good, it’s difficult to answer.
Maybe you can work with an editor, who could give it a second sight and make your notes more suitable for a book?
-I would need a co-writer for what you are suggesting, because the lyrics that I write, they follow the mood of the guitar riff that was already composed. I never write songs, actually. I write albums – from the first song to the last. There’s always a plan and I make the songs fit into the album.
Twelve years ago you released a more viking-metal sounding album under the name Demonaz. Have you composed anything new for this project?
-No, not really. In 2001 or 2002 we had a break with the band and in that period, I wanted to write something else. I had a lot of heavy metal riffs and I was always a fan of the Blood On Ice Bathory album and also early Manowar. So I called the drummer we had on the first album (Gerhard Herfindal, a.k.a. Armagedda) and also called Arve Isdal to play on bass. I wanted to make March Of The Norse a heavy metal album, but my way. I was not intended to be an album but just a demo at first. I can write a new album in that style easily again, it won’t be a problem, but it’s just not on my agenda. It was a lot of work to get these last two Immortal albums released, so I hope for the next one, now that there’s only me in charge of everything, I can release it faster.
There is a popular opinion that Battles In The North and Blizzard Beasts are two of the classic Immortal albums which would benefit a lot from a remix and remaster. Do you plan to treat these recordings like that?
-Yeah, of course. There were problems with the production, especially with Blizzard Beasts and there were some drum issues on Battles In The North which could be fixed, so I would do it if these are sent to me again (perhaps Demonaz means Osmose Productions still have the only right to reissue the albums). There are a lot of good songs on Blizzard Beasts but the drum sound is a pain in the ass, haha.
We know about the health issues with your hand, but I must ask you – is there a chance to see Immortal live again someday? I bet you have tons of requests from promoters.
-Yes, I have a lot of requests but my plan was to release this album first and there were so many issues like the pandemic, delays in the studio and everything else. The plan is now to sit with the management and see what the opportunities are to play in the next few months. Of course, if we can do justice to this music with some spectacular show, then we would be ready to discuss it. The time was not right until now, but I hope we can do it now.
It’s great that you say it. This means it is not out of the question and I honestly think it would be e celebration for the fans to see Immortal live again. What is the most surprising and unusual thing about Demonaz that the fans don’t know and you wouldn’t mind sharing?
-Well, I haven’t given a lot of interviews lately. People come and go and they say different things and it gets published and you cannot change it. There are a lot of stories about Immortal on the internet that are not true and I think the fans are confused about it all, you know? There were no trials, or church burnings or shootings in Immortal, there were just disagreements. What don’t people know about me? I never give up. People stop and lose interest but I never do that. I never give up. It gets us back to the first question you had today. When I made up that title I was initially thinking that could be the last album ever. When I got the band back together after Sons Of Northern Darkness, we all wanted to do it, but it was difficult. Then I made a plan and I decided I would never give up. Before, when Immortal was down and had a bad time, I had a bad time too. I always had a bad time when things didn’t work. I started the band in 1990, I talked to Abbath, who told me he would join as soon as he finished what he was doing in Old Funeral and from that point onward I couldn’t think of doing anything else. Even the problems with my hand didn’t stop us and even Abbath played the guitar on At The Heart Of Winter just because we didn’t want anybody else to take my job, you know? Even if I couldn’t play live, we still composed the songs together – I could still play on an ok level. However, I have never been a manager for the band, which has been written somewhere. So, the reason why it didn’t work out after Sons Of Northern Darkness was because of personal issues and also because I couldn’t play live with the band. This took its toll on us. We didn’t want to continue if I wasn’t there. We worked together for At The Heart Of Winter but then it was really difficult for me to contribute to Damned In Black. Part of the problem was that we had that close relation to doing everything and we didn’t want anybody else to come and take my job. Then Abbath said to me “I would only do this if you play with us”. It is not easy – the fans have heard a lot of things. The fans have the right to voice their opinion but when you give them faster songs, they want slower songs and vice versa. It’s a question of to be or not to be. I don’t make an album for a week. I put all my life into these albums and there’s really, really, really a lot of work in them.
Sure, it’s about being honest to the fans and I am sure they will appreciate what you’ve been doing. Final question – what are the albums that you are listening to lately? What kind of music do you listen to at home?
-I just listen to Merciless, The Awakening album – fantastic Swedish thrash from the early nineties. I often listen to Altars Of Madness and To Mega Therion. I also listen to film music, Howard Shore, for example, I listened to his Two Concerti yesterday. I also like classical music sometimes. It’s difficult to listen to new metal music. I listen as a fan, I listen to the albums I grew up with. When I listen to new music, now as am older and my brain is different, I tend to analyze it instead of enjoying it. It’s hard for me to enjoy new music.
Well, I have no choice – I have to listen to new music, haha!
-Yeah, but the key thing is to make timeless music with timeless production, in a way. That’s what I am trying to do. As soon as it sounds too modern, there would be a problem.
War Against All will be out on May 26th through Nuclear Blast and can be pre-ordered from HERE