I’d call it like KISS on steroids

Abbath

This month I had the pleasure of talking with Abbath's King Ov Hell about the band, their new material, his roots, and the Heavy Metal scene in general! It's days like these I really love my work. Big thanks to Geir Olaisen for helping me with a few questions!

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us! We have been chasing you for an interview for a while now. Has it been a busy time for you?
 
You know, it’s been very hectic. We released the album—was it last month? Something like that—so you know. Lots of touring and preparing the video and, you know, lots of stuff going on.
 
Yes I saw the video today. It’s very nice!
 
Thank you!
 
How are the initial reactions to your new record? Are you getting the response you hoped for?
 
It’s always like that when you release an album. You mainly have the focus on making something you like yourself and then you hope afterwards other people will share your opinion, you know? But it seems like it’s been well received all over, as far as I’ve been told.
 
I got the same impression; both the critics and the fans seem to praise it.
 
So yeah, we are very happy with the outcome. We got to make what we tried to make so to speak, so that’s a good thing.
 
That’s a very good thing, definitely. What can you tell us about the sound of the new record? In what way is it different from Olve’s work with Immortal or your work with Gorgoroth, God Seed and I?
 
The material was mainly written before I entered the process because, you know, most of this material was aimed to be the new Immortal album. So we started working on that, I guess… the other Immortal people left around summer 2014, so autumn 2014 I guess we started rehearsing on the material and so forth. I think we wanted to have a more 'Rock' sound than Immortal has, so we’d have a more organic feel to it. Where Immortal would trigger the drums quite a bit, we wanted to have it with no triggers, leaving the songs more sound like they would in our rehearsal room and not in our studio. We got the songs right in the rehearsal room and then we contacted Daniel Bergstrand. He has done lots of bands like Behemoth, Dimmu Borgir, and so forth. We talked to him and we got an agreement that we wanted this kind of sound and he in on it. We had Creature come over to Stockholm to start recording, no triggers, you know, tried to play without too much editing on the drums, have it very authentic.
 
I can tell. One of the things I really noticed is that the sound on the new album doesn’t seem to completely fit in the traditional genre boxes. It sounds like something new.
 
I think so too. It’s a little bit differently produced. Daniel Bergstrand helped us quite a bit. He understood what we were trying to do and he’s done a phenomenal job on that. So, when you’re saying it like that, I don’t recall any album right now that has this kind of sound either, but it might be. There’s lots of bands doing different shit, but it sounds very different from what we’ve done before.
 
Would you still call this Black Metal?
 
No. I’d call it like KISS on steroids.
 
*laughs* Kiss on steroids, that’s a nice term.
 
Something like that, I don’t know.
 
Would you say the boundaries between the traditional genres have become a bit more fluid the last few years?
 
Probably. It’s a long time since I’ve been in the Black Metal scene, or done a Black Metal album. I wouldn’t call the latest God Seed album Black Metal either, you know. I must go back to the Gorgoroth days I presume for when I was doing something that could be labelled as Black Metal, and I think for Abbath’s sake, he needs to go back to the 90s with Immortal for really calling it Black Metal.
 
Yeah I agree.
 
That term Black Metal has been used more and more with extreme music, so whatever Abbath was doing would probably be labelled Black Metal because some people view us as Black Metal artists, but right now I don’t see anything about what we’re doing that has anything to do with Black Metal. Neither the music, nor… yeah maybe the visual concept a little bit but not really, you know.
 
That’s something that really interests me. The blurry lines between the traditional scenes. I think the Metal landscape has really changed over the last few years.
 
It probably has. But I think the change already started in the late 90s. It’s been slowly disappearing.
 
Back to the album! What’s your favorite track on it, and why?
 
If I had to choose two favorite tracks, that would be “Winterbane” and “Root of the Mountain,” those would be two of my favorites. I think those two songs, we sound more as… you know, we are a trio but we all get to show our individuality. Because that’s what I like with a band, it’s like Led Zeppelin, all of those bands you know, there you have John Paul Jones, you have Jimmy Page, you have Bonham on drums, Robert Plant; all of these people have a very significant unique sound to their instrument and what they are doing, but they’re coming together and they sound like a band. Most of the bands right now, you don’t really care who the drummer is or it’s not important who the bassist is, because they are only doing what fifty other bassists are doing, they’re not really putting a personality into their songs. So those two songs I think we get to like, you know, color it. I have a little bit of that 70s vibe of playing I guess. More of that than a Black Metal setting or whatever.
 
Do you feel like you’ve been able to put your own stamp on this music, on this album?
 
Yeah, I think I’ve been coloring it, you know, I’ve been working on it for years. Through production, through making all the bass lines, through, you know, sitting in the rehearsal room, all that. That said, it is forced out of whatever Abbath has created, of course.
 
I really liked the sound on the album as a whole. To me it sounded like a back to basics, less-is-more approach, with great production values. It kind of reminded me of the older classic albums, but with way better production.
 
You could say that, you’re right, we’re going back in time a little bit, you know. Instead of... there are so many bands now, they go into the studio and they doctor everything. You can tweak the guitars so everything gets super tight and all of that, you know. We wanted to have it a little bit like 'this is the band playing'. So yeah, there is little doctoring going on. I mean you can probably hear some mistakes, it’s not like really tight all the time, but it has that charm to it, you know?
 
It still has to be authentic, right?
 
Exactly. But at the same time, we don’t sound like a garage band.
 
That’s one of the things I really noticed. I used to go to these Black Metal shows in the old days, in Rotterdam, and it was always a wall of sound, and if you listen to the productions of those bands that played there, it was also a wall of sound. And the songs on this album, to me, are like the classics from that era but better produced. So I really enjoyed it.
 
Oh, thank you so much.
 
If you were to look at the classic albums of those days—the ones I mentioned, the under produced ones—is there an album out there that you would like to see reproduced with your current production values?
 
I know that Abbath has this album Blizzard Beasts, he is not happy with that production, and he really wants to re-record that. But then again, off my own stuff, I don’t know. It’s like, it has that stamp of that era and maybe you should let the past be like that. And in all fairness, lots of the albums that came out in the early 90s like Pentagram (Gorgoroth [1994]), A Blaze in the Northern Sky (Darkthrone [1992]), you know Filosofem [Burzum [1996]), all of those, if you changed those to be a better production you would actually take away some of the uniqueness of what made those albums great you know? Listening to Filosofem being well produced and well played wouldn’t be the same album. It would be pointless. You know, there are so many recipes for making a great album, it’s not like one formula that sticks, but for Abbath right now we wanted to have it, you know, good production, have that kind of feel, but we don’t really want to go back to the old days and do this harsh grim production. We have done that and it’s time to move on and try out new things.
 
It’s definitely a new era.
 
A new era, try new things, always. No point in reproducing earlier albums or earlier feels. Create something new all the time.
 
Indeed, forwards! One of the two bonus tracks on this record is a Judas Priest cover of “Riding on the Wind”. How did you decide on this track?
 
Well, that was Abbath. The thing is, he wanted to pay some respect to Rob Halford I guess, he has been an Immortal fan for a long period, stuff like that. He wanted to do that. So I’ve been thinking about this track in his car and whatnot and we thought it would be cool to do that.
 
I really loved the sound on that one. But it’s new.
 
You know it’s like, either you hate it or you love it. It’s something a little different but that’s the point with it as well. It’s a little bit on the edge. If you get it, and you like it, you know, but some may think the song a little bit strange I presume. But who cares.
 
I like it when people show different sides of themselves, so a surprise like that on an album, I only applaud it. Are there more artists you would consider covering that people might not expect from you?
 
Well we have talked about a few songs here and there that we could cover. It would be bonus tracks, you know, we would never take that into live settings or include them on the album. These days it’s apparently important to have some bonus tracks. I don’t know why but, well I think it’s about the record deals and everything, you always need to deliver something extra. I think that is because of the Japanese market. I think they are like, if you give them an album, they don’t give a flying fuck. It’s like they want that and they want more. So, you know.
 
*laughs* greedy bastards.
 
You know. 10 songs? We want 12. *laughs* Give ‘em 8? Oh, we want 10. So maybe we send them over some… I don’t know it’s pretty crazy, because if you’re making an album, it’s like a concept. It’s like you have classics, Led Zeppelin's 4 for example. We better ask Led Zeppelin, here is Led Zeppelin's 4, no but you need to have two more songs. Yeah but this is the album. No, no, two more songs Led Zeppelin. It’s just stupid you know.
 
In a way, definitely. But I do have to say it’s the only thing I hated about the new record, how quickly it was over *laughs*
 
True, but it has rather long songs on it, so it lasts over 40 minutes. Isn’t that the standard length of an album?
 
It’s a standard length, but somehow, I was in the gym, I had the record on my ears and it was like what, wait, that’s it? 8 songs?
 
Oh, yeah. Well with the two bonus tracks I think it’s over 50 minutes, so it should be enough. You know what? More music is coming, there will be more albums. This was number one, you will get more music from us, you know?
 
Did you record more stuff than went into the record?
 
No, we decided that in the rehearsal room. We have played more songs in the rehearsal room. I think Abbath got two, three albums worth of music extra and I’ve got a bunch of riffs and everything, you know, so the future… I’m not worried about the creative process. Both me and Abbath are very creative people. We like to be in the rehearsal room, work fast and get things moving.
 
So you’re well stocked for the next record.
 
Hmm, hmm, yeah, so that’s going to be very interesting. Because now... this is like the lead-off a little bit so now we really started from scratch with this first record, you know? Like, I think we have already discovered some things on this album that we can like further develop, we’re bringing in some new elements. It should be very interesting to start on the new album for sure. We know a little bit more then when we started. We started in the rehearsal room, we didn’t know where we were heading, creating this album entirely you know? I think we’ve gotten the Abbath sound locked down a little bit you know, so that’s cool.
 
It’s a good sound, you did well! How long will we have to wait for more Abbath tracks? When do you think you’ll start the next chapter?
 
There’s a US tour going on, there are some festivals this summer, but outside of that we are going to focus on going to the rehearsal room and creating more music. So hopefully we can get an album out… you know one thing is when you’ve created it, you need to go to the studio, you need to produce it, and then you have to wait for four months for the label to get it out or what not, so I doubt it will be a day before autumn 2017 at the earliest. Well, that’s what we hope for, but it might be early 2018 so that would be 2 years in between, but that is also a little bit up to the label. So they have time to work it and all that shit—that’s out of our hands basically—but as a band we are on record number 2 and 3 already in our heads, and we’re always playing and sharing ideas.
 
That’s a good sign! Another question, what is the current official line-up of the band? There has been some confusion of late. Last year a few members quit according to several online sources?
 
The truth behind it is, it’s Abbath. He had his things, and then me and him started working together, and we have tried out different people for drums, and crew members and stuff like that. Trying to build a solid team, you know? We changed crew members and we also changed some musicians, but since this was a project that needed to go out so quickly; the first drummer we had in mind was Baard Kolstad and it didn’t really work with him on a social level to be fair, we had different personalities. He is a young drummer and he wasn’t ready for the craziness of old men like us I guess.

And then we got this French guy to step in, we didn’t know him at all. He came in May last year, and then we went into the studio in July, and by October or something he was gone. So calling him a member or anything… I don’t really know. He was more of a hired gun. And then the session guitar player who did like five shows with us, he was used live, I don’t know. I saw on the internet like “oh everything is falling apart” all about this live session guitarist that did a few live shows with us, and we changed him, I don’t know.
 
Yeah I saw it and I was really like okay, there’s a story there, let’s dig into it.
 
Nah, it looked like more drama on the internet that things were falling apart and whatnot, but in essence it’s me and Abbath running the band right now, you know? And then we have an American drummer right now, Gabe Seeber is his name. He does a fantastic job, but if he’s going to stay or not, I don’t know. He lives in California in the states, and running a band from the other side of the planet can be hard. It might work also, so we’ll talk to him, you know? And then we have Raud, he also did the guitar solos on the album, and is playing live with us now.

The thing is—and that goes for everything—to take part in something we are doing right now, it takes some special personalities, you know? To get in, it can work for two or three months, or whatnot, but if you don’t know people, you never know.
 
It’s a new project so yeah, you’ve got to take your time to set it up properly.
 
What we are doing, we are in total control of everything. That’s why we invented Creature in the first place, because we didn’t know who the drummer would be, so we thought fuck it, okay, we’ll have a creature. We still have Creature in the band, we just have a different Creature, you know what I mean? *laughs*
 
I like that. Like 'The Sting' on Top Gear.
 
Hmm, hmm, yeah, that’s how that came about. So it doesn’t seem like different drummers all the time, we have a Creature, it’s the same *laughs*
 
Yes. Problem solved.
 
Exactly.
 
Your first live show with the new band was on the Tuska Open Air festival in Finland in 2015. How many shows have you done since then?
 
Last year I think we did maybe ten shows or something, all together. We went to Australia and Japan, we played a few festivals—Fall of Summer, Heavy Montreal—so around ten shows. And this year so far, we will do like 50 shows or something when it comes to April, so we will do maybe do 60 or 70 shows in half a year. So yeah, we’re quite busy on the live front.
 
That’s a good thing. You’ve got to get out there with your music. How would you describe the Abbath experience live? Is it familiar to fans of your earlier projects?
 
Both me and Abbath bring our characters I guess on stage, you know? But we’re trying to renew stuff as well, with different lights. We are focusing on new music. When we played live now, I think we had three Immortal songs out of one hour and twenty minutes, to have our focus on the new material and some I songs. Of course, Immortal is part of Abbath, of course, but he’s not going to focus on Immortal's glory or whatnot. We are trying to be the band Abbath.
 
I get that. Olve has become widely known on the internet for the many Abbath memes out there. How does he feel about being a meme star? Does it annoy him, or flatter him?
 
I don’t think he… neither? He doesn’t live in the internet world. I’m not sure if he knows how much it is really used either, you know?
 
Really?
 
I mean he doesn’t have a Facebook or anything like that. You know, he has a computer, but he is more interested in YouTube documentaries of Lemmy and Motörhead and Venom and searching himself on the internet obviously, but yeah… no. But he has a big heart and lots of humor, he’s like my brother you know? So, he doesn’t give a flying fuck. People can do whatever they want, and if that amuses them, it’s great.  It’s show business, isn’t it?
 
I really like it. It made me wonder if he would ever consider playing into the trend like Chuck Norris did with the Chuck Norris facts *laughs*
 
*laughs* Abbath has lots of self-irony so I don’t think that is a big problem.
 
Okay, awesome. Which artists were your biggest inspiration while growing up, where are the roots of your sound?
 
Well that was like a seventies basis, you know Geezer Butler, John Paul Jones, Led Zeppelin, that kind of area. So I was totally into the 70s. I think that’s how I learned to play. I’ve had bands before, I really like, dug into that. Tribute bands, I made more tribute songs almost you know. We had a song that was very retro 70s, so I bring some of those elements in now like I did in God Seed on the I Begin record; a lot of 70s elements, we can obviously hear that in Abbath right now you know? We have a little bit of this 70s vibe going on. The same goes for Abbath, he has lots of the same preferences, some of the classics; Black Sabbath, some Deep Purple albums and so forth.
 
The true classics.
 
Indeed. We are from that era, you know? He doesn’t really like albums after 1990 I presume, but I can listen to Mastodon, High On Fire—all of these bands, and get something out of it—but there is something with that era. There’s a lot of great artists from that era, like David Bowie, Kate Bush, you know, Frank Zappa; all those things happened in that era. I find that still superior to most of what bands are doing today.
 
So you would say that your influences and inspiration haven’t changed over the years?
 
Somewhere in the 90s, beginning of '00, a lot of electronic music came out and that was quite interesting. Like Snap!, Massive Attack, those kind of bands, Lamb… That was kind of interesting at that point, but it’s nothing that I’m really, you know. I can still like to listen to some Massive Attack or whatnot, but I don’t think I draw too much inspiration or creativity from it to my own music or anything like that, but it’s still there somehow, you know? You can even hear that in Abbath right now. There are a few Ozzy links in there, a few KISS references here and there, you know?
 
I can hear that. What bands are out there that you think don’t get the recognition they deserve?
 
Oh that’s quite a few. Sometimes you get that, like this band needs more recognition. There is actually a band in Bergen, it’s called Ribozym. I think they have like 2000 likes on Facebook or whatnot, but their album; it could be bigger than Tool in my opinion, you know? They have very fucking good songwriting going on. But that’s more in the Rock genre. But there are some bands that like really deserve world recognition that only are at a local or national level, and most people really don’t get to hear them.

We were sort of lucky you know? Now we’re in our forties and everything, we’ve gotten to be old men at this point. We’re known in the music industry, we have a record label that can help us bring out stuff, we have a career... and right now it’s so hard for bands because they come with new music and the record labels don’t really have the power that much anymore to bring bands up and forth, you know? Everything is so fragmented too. Even if you get on some sites on the internet and whatnot, it’s like a mess. Before, if you got into Metal Hammer, you had Rock Hard, everything was very organized, you could almost control things. Now it’s just… there are all these opportunities to listen to music, people can get their music from everywhere, people are searching… it’s hard to start with, to get something out there I presume.
 
That’s why I always like when established bands like yourself give a shout-out to the younger talent that they like and put a little spotlight on them.
 
Yeah, yeah, absolutely, it should be more and more about that, and it should be more like that in the booking industry as well, because right now when you go on tour, I come often with suggestions of new and upcoming bands and they’re like “oh but they don’t bring an audience”. But how can they fucking get out there if they don’t get in front of an audience. They will actually get an audience later, you know? You cannot bring an audience the first time. There’s a first time for everything. Like, we will be on the tour with Behemoth now, it will be like Behemoth, Entombed, Abbath, Inquisition—all of those bands are established artists. Nothing really new or up and coming in that sense. It should be more... get some newcomers in that, amongst the established bands so people get to hear them, you know.
 
I saw a few other bands on your North American lineup, Skeletonwitch, Tribulation?
 
They’re also all established bands, aren’t they?
 
Yeah I guess they are, but not as established as you.
 
Well, we didn’t set up that tour. I don’t really know how established those bands are, to be fair. I know of the bands and everything but don’t follow their careers or what not. It’s an interesting tour at least, the combination with us and High On Fire and stuff like that, it’s quite interesting. But we try to do that as well, because we don’t want to end up in this Black Metal category. We don’t really play only for our Black Metal extreme audiences, we can play for more people I guess.
 
You’ve become something better, something bigger. A question many fans have asked is if there is ever a chance of an Immortal reunion at some point. Do you think Olve will ever get back together with those guys?
 
I don’t know. I think right now it seems like with Abbath it’s not happening in the nearest future, but I know that Abbath still views Demonaz like a long time brother over many years you know, and he loves him very much, so hopefully one day they will get to speak out and talk and get things settled, you know?
 
But right now they’re not on speaking terms?
 
No it doesn’t seem… as far as I know they haven’t talked for quite some time, so hopefully it will change, but you know Abbath, at least his head is now with the album—he makes his music, he can go touring, he’s active—I think that’s the most important thing for him.
 
That’s the most important, definitely.
 
I think for the other guys, they can still run Immortal you know, pick that up and whatever they’re doing with that and..
 
See where the future leads.
 
Yeah, so it might not be like… instead of having one band there can be two functioning bands so everybody is happy in the end hopefully, you know?
 
Win-win. Yes. And as for the I project, will there ever be a continuation of that or has Abbath replaced I?
 
That’s the thing. We actually debated that. What are we going to call this now? Should we call it I? Or should we call it Abbath? That’s where we were at, you know? And we decided that I was that special time—that was that record. We didn’t use corpse paint or anything, that was like that, and this is more a continuation of what Abbath was in Immortal. And you know, it’s something new as well, so it’s a fresh start, so we decided to call it Abbath. The other thing was, I said to him, whatever happens now, no one can take that away from you, you know? *laughs* Then you are totally shaping your own brand and all of that shit. So it had many functions, and I think it works, you know?
 
I agree! I’m about done with my questions. We always finish with this final one, do you have any last words for our readers?
 
We have spent quite some time on making this music video we just released, and if you haven’t gotten to see "Winterbane" on YouTube yet, you better go and check it out!
 
That’s great words. I’ll add that video to the bottom of this article as well!
 
Nice talking to you Randy!
 
Same here! And have fun with the tour! Metal On Loud!

Randy Gerritse