The Archaic Course (Century Media)
An interview with guitarist Oystein G. Brun
by Scott Hefflon
A black metal supergroup, Borknagar collects members of Immortal, Hades, Arcturus, Ved Buens Ende, Gorgoroth, Enslaved, and Molested (yes, there’s some overlap) and delivers a diverse eight-song release filled with longing, pain, darkness, and revelry. Vocalist Garm has been replaced by I.C.S. Vortex, and his brutal shrieks and warm, almost powermetally vocals complement the surging symphonic evil, bringing in a woodsy, almost folky aspect to the sound. Within each song, there are howls to blackened skies as wolves race through the night, as well as man’s thoughtful contemplation before the beauty and wonder of a raging fire. Man and beast, beauty and the grotesque, devastation, dreams, and the pursuit of one’s destiny: it’s all here. Rich production and lyric sheets round out the package, making The Archaic Course a must for black metal fans as well as a good pick for beginners who’ve heard about this symphonic black metal plague going on, but have no idea what to get.
We’ve missed each other the last few times we’ve tried to hook up… I hear you’re leaving [the U.S.] today.
Yeah, we’re getting on a plane in a few hours. We’ve been on tour and away from home for four weeks or so.
Do you get a break now?
No, we’re going to record our new album in December, so we’re going to go home, maybe take a few days off, then start working on new material. The basic lines are mostly written, but we have to do the vocal lines and the final arrangement. We’re planning on going into the studio in December, so hopefully the album will be out in March or April.
Are you using the same studio?
No, we’re going to Abyss studio in Sweden. The last two times we used Woodhouse in Germany. We thought we’d change studios and get a little bit of a new sound.
Are you going to be working with Peter Tägtgren (Abyss Studios, Abyss the band, Hypocrisy, War, etc.)?
You co-produced this record, right?
Yeah. Matthias Klinkmann helped out a lot because Waldemar Sorychta couldn’t come in because he was recording with his band, Grip Inc. So we did most of The Archaic Course ourselves.
It’s not like you guys really need a lot of coaching in the studio…
We really don’t like people telling us what we should do. It’s OK to get some advise on the technical stuff, but when it comes to the music and arrangements, we know what we want.
You’ve had quite a few line-up changes… Are you going to stick with the line-up on The Archaic Course?
We’ve lost two members since that album, the drummer and the bass player, because of disagreements and such. On the next album, it’ll probably be me and Jens, the second guitarist, and Simen (also in Dimmu Borgir), the bassist and vocalist. That’s kind of the core of the band. We’ll probably use Nicholas, ex-Cradle of Filth (now in Dimmu Borgir), as a session drummer.
How’s it work out sharing two “members” with Dimmu Borgir?
It’s not a problem right now because both bands are very familiar with each others’ material, and we switch around, depending on which band is active at the time.
No more crossover with Arcturus?
I don’t think so. Simen did some vocals for them, but he’s not in the band anymore. And I talked to Garm, and the band either doesn’t exist anymore, or they’re just inactive.
They did a remix album of their last album, right?
Yeah, it was strange and hip-hopish, or jungle, or whatever. It was interesting…
Would you do something like that?
No, that’s not my way. We want to explore new musical territories, but I wouldn’t stop and add trendy drum’n’bass beats and things like that. We’ll of course progress on the next album, but we’ll keep much of the basic vibe that’s made us and distinguishes our sound.
What influences might you explore?
I don’t have any concrete ideas or influences… It comes just by instinct, I guess. We’ve always had the hard vocals and the clean, rather theatrical vocals. It’s atmospheric and very emotional, and it contrasts the gruesomeness…
Have you ever used female vocals?
No, we thought of doing it on The Olden Domain, but we never did. Personally, I’m not really a fan of female vocals in black metal. It’s kind of overused anyway.
So what’s the next step? Keyboards have been done, female vocals have been done, clean vocals contrasting blacken shrieks have been done, and now certain bands are remixing with drum loops, going ambient or classical, or regressing to traditional heavy metal…
I think the new album will be more atmospheric, but focusing on screaming vocals and heavy guitar parts. That’s one of the reasons we’re switching to Abyss studios – Peter’s able to capture a heavier guitar sound. People seem to expect each new album from us to be completely different, suddenly do something totally strange, but while I think we’ll progress, we’ll keep the same basic vibe to the music. I think The Archaic Course is the most epic album we can do, so if we try to be more epic, it’ll be forced and come out kind of cheesy.
Seeing as you write most of the lyrics, what would you say they’re usually about?
Actually, Simen has been writing quite a bit recently… With my lyrics, it’s never been my intention to be a preacher, I try to approach lyrics as a form of art. I think with the melodies, the lyrics carry a lot of emotion and feeling, and are perhaps a little philosophical. I use the framework of Norse mythology because that’s the way I choose to express myself. But while the songs may have a lot of mountains and such, I think the songs have meaning behind that. I don’t want to tell people what to do, or tell them what I think is wrong, it’s my task to create pure art, something I’m comfortable with and think people will find interesting and engaging.
What’re your favorite songs, both to play live and compositionally?
“Universal,” the second song on The Archaic Course, is the song I’m most proud of. It’s not the song that’s gone on to be the hit of the album, but it’s the song, lyrically and musically, that’s closest to the perfect thing I’ve ever done. When it comes to live performance, “Ad Noctum” is the song I enjoy the most, and it was written by Simen, not me.
What song do the fans seem to respond most strongly to?
Probably the first song, “Oceans Rise.” That’s the “hit song,” so to speak, the song that appears on all the compilations. That seems to be the song people’ve first heard from us, so that’s the song they like best.
Does it bother you that you’re being represented by only one song, just like in the pop world, so when new people come and see you, they only know that one song cuz that’s all that’s been made available?
That’s the song that’s been on radio, on compilations, and on Century Media’s sampler, ID5, and a lot of people came to see us because they’d heard the song. But that’s the way it works. People have to hear something first, I guess, and it’s “Ocean’s Rise.” Luckily I like the song.
Seeing as you’ve been around for some time (formed in ’95, boasting current and former members of Molested, Ulver, Arcturus, Gorgoroth, Immortal, and Enslaved), do you get nostalgic about black metal’s roots, or do you like the direction it’s been heading over the years?
I’m much more into what’s happening these days. A few years ago, especially here in Norway, many people were focused on the image, the gimmick… The church burnings, the murders, the whole thing… It was centered around the gimmick, not the music. I’ve always been into it for the music. These days, more bands seem to be concentrating on the musical aspect, working really hard to write good songs, arrange them, and produce them well. There seems to be much more high quality black metal music out there now, and that’s what I like. While I think the first Darkthrone and Bathory albums were great – and still are – much of the rest was rather one-dimensional. And bands are still doing the same exact thing as those bands did five or more years ago… I guess it’s their thing, but it’s not mine. As you’ve probably noticed, progression is very important to me, so I always want to push myself more and explore new areas.
What are the bands you’ve bands always been inspired by, or types of music you appreciate?
Pink Floyd, always. They’re my favorite band. The contrast, track layering, and moods they achieve have always inspired me. I also like a bit of pop music. Not in the sense that I know the names or buy the records, but I like listening to some of it. And metal, from Iron Maiden to Kreator and everything in between. I try to keep an open mind so I can appreciate what’s good, no matter what style of music it is. I think it’s important, especially as a composer, to see the whole picture.
I interviewed Christofer from Therion a while back and he surprised me by saying he really respected ABBA. From a composer’s point of view they have great structure: Catchy melodies, beautiful harmonies, and snappy beats… Anything like that for you?
Um… I don’t think I can top that…
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