MEMORIES IN SOLITUDE: TRELLDOM

The fifth issue (2008) was again a fractured creation. The only aim was just to gather black and death metal bands for this one, but stylistically both the interviews and the bands didn’t build anything coherent – which has become my goal in Kaleidoscope more and more. So what comes to this issue, I’m more satisfied with some certain interviews than the whole package. Ash Pool interview was a pleasure to do, and also the impulsive chat moment with Incantation’s John McEntee before their gig worked better than I expected.

And then there was Trelldom. I wasn’t so familiar with the band before this, but their “comeback” album Til Minne… (2007) blew my mind somewhere across the tundra. This album is as epic, cold and harsh as its cover: total Norwegian riff storms that pierce your skin, accompanied by simple but thunderous drums and Gaahl’s distinctive shrieks. And this happened before everything and everyone came from the closet, and Gaahl was considered more as a musician than a person with different lifestyle. I made the interview by phone, and my impression about this man mountain was quite positive – self-confident, a bit distant but not too arrogant. The interview was finished by bassist Sir Sick, so the whole interview gives a quite good picture about a band in its most vibrant shape in my opinion. Sadly Gaahl’s visions about nine Trelldom albums seem to not to be fulfilled, so let’s embrace what we have.

15 years and three albums. Despite this fact I guess nobody dares to say Trelldom are lazy bastards. The work of wisdom needs time and concentration and this band has taken them – of course the main man Gaahl’s commitment to Gorgoroth has to be mentioned also. But now they are back with Til Minne…, a third row of Nordic Black Metal which can seem to be typical at first but it contains elements, sounds and visions which are very rare in nowadays Black Metal. I was honoured to make a phone interview with Gaahl and also got the bassist Sir Sick’s thoughts via e-mail, so take cover and read this double attack from Bergen.  

 Trelldom has existed for about 15 years which is a long period for any band. Can you still remember what the main inspiration for all this was?

Gaahl: We started in August 1992. There were two members that time, me and the guitarist (Tyrant), and we met just by accident, although I had been looking for someone who I could form Trelldom with. But we had to split up in 1995 because of the personal issues but I wanted to maintain the charge for myself. Of course at first we just have to start and look does it work, how you work with members and music. One thing was that we didn’t want to create a band that will succeed in a week.

 How have the first thoughts of Trelldom changed during these years, or is this the same Trelldom?

Gaahl: It’s still the same entity. The whole concept of Trelldom that I have been working with – these nine albums that will fit together – has existed always. On the demo tape this wasn’t an idea that was totally complete, but after that demo tape and when I started to work with Trelldom’s true expression, then I took this subject of what will come. So the idea is from late 1994, the whole concept of albums.

Was it hard to find that Trelldom atmosphere again after all these years?

Gaahl: It has always been there. The reason for this silence was basically is that we went to the studio in 2001 and start recording but then there were different circumstances like me in a prison and redoing guitar tracks. Also it was hard to find time together: we went in and out in the studio for two-three days in a row. So we made small tapes instead of one big leap. But it was progressive to work like this. But yes, it wasn’t that we hadn’t working at all during this time, and usually we don’t concentrate on time so much. Same thing with a label: I didn’t want to rush in anything, I just wanted to find a good label after the album is completely ready. I’m really glad that we used this long period for recording because there are so many special guitars and sounds that we wouldn’t do if we had to do this album in a shorter time. Our guitarist has been able to work without being annoyed by me all the time and work in a very progressive way. So there are more progressive and profound elements on the album than in our first plans.

Sir Sick: Most of the material dates back to the time just after Til Et Annet…. Most of my contribution was finished around that time, except for a few lines that we did during mixing. Gaahl and Valgard worked on and off in periods until we all got together for the mixing sessions. In a musical way there is a very strong consensus among us and we try to extract everyone’s musical personality.

I think that Til Minne… is a more epic and wider album than Til Et Annet… or Til Evighet… Like the band pictures, the songs and riffs travel far, far away and the music opens up like a landscape from the top of a hill. Did you have similar goals and thoughts when you were writing Til Minne…?

Sir Sick: Yes we did. We talk and discuss in images and try to draw parallels to the symbolism in the lyrics. Personally, I tend to visualize landscape sceneries while exploring future ideas for Trelldom

Gaahl: This album represents a memory or a part of a soul called minne. It’s one of these nine different worlds, which we use daily in our speech here in Norway. So this part of a soul contains a memory, or an inherent memory. So the album had to be more laidback and patient, because a memory is patient in a way. Without memory there would be nothing. We wouldn’t be what we are without an ability to memorise. Your memory is what you are, and I think you can hear this idea from this album, which is a more patient character.

 A word that is in close connection with Trelldom in my thoughts is solitude. For example, you as a band seem to be a very separated entity, one that needs distance from everything to be able to create. Is it so?

Gaahl: Yes, I have worked always alone and now when we are working together as a band, we work in solitude. I don’t create music through dialogues, I always need to work by myself before I present anything to anyone. I don’t like to work when there’s people around me. So solitude is a good word for us, actually the first Trelldom song was called Chains of Solitude. It will maintain in our focus in the future also.

Sir Sick: During the first years we all lived and worked in Sunnfjord. Around that time we were the only who were playing this kind of music. We had no relations to the major cities like Bergen and Oslo and we were pretty much musically isolated. This background has played a major part in shaping the band and it still does.

 How about do you find any bands similar to Trelldom or are you on your own with your music and lyrical content?

Sir Sick: I firmly believe that we have developed a unique sound within the genre. Personally, I discovered in an early stage what I liked about this type of music. Black Metal is not very advanced musically, just like a lot of other genres, and therefore you will always find similar elements in other places. The members of Trelldom are all strong individuals with strong opinions and the resulting music is a blend of our personalities. Our musical preferences are also quite diverse. One of the few things we have in common musically is that we don’t listen much to metal.

 And I think this solitude infects also the listener because I’m also alone when I listen to your music; it’s not an experience that  I want to share with drinking buddies or anyone else. Is Trelldom lonely music for lonely people?

Gaahl: Trelldom’s albums are definitely not rock’n’roll albums. It’s music for individuals and with music I reflect inwards, to myself as an individual. It’s someway an opposite what I do with Gorgoroth, although there is a same person behind these two bands: Gorgoroth is directed outwards, against something.

Sir Sick: This is not an easy question to answer for one who has been involved in creating the music. We left more than one bottle of wine empty after listening to the finished product. With that said Trelldom is by no means party music. The music is constructed in layers; On the surface the music is very primitive and raw, but at the same time there is a more sophisticated layer which is more demanding of the listener. This makes the music appeal to people otherwise not interested in Black Metal.

 Gorgoroth is the ultimate live band, but is it completely impossible to see Trelldom live?

Gaahl: If we had a live show, it would probably be more than an ordinary concert. It could be done, but then it would be more an event, a big crew, lots of lights and everything necessary for that it would represent every aspect of Trelldom symbolically.

 Like Til Et Annet… included a very monolithic song Sonar Dreyri, Til Minne… does the same trick with Steg. What kind of visions does that song try to create for you and for the listeners?

Gaahl: Hmm, that is one of the problems when writing in Norwegian… It’s almost possible to translate the lyrics without losing something. When I started to write Steg, I knew that this won’t be music, this is poetry. The lyrics are really important for me, the most important lyrics I have ever written, so they can’t be present in any other language than in Norwegian. It’s so connected to my heart, so it’s really hard to speak about it actually…

Sir Sick: Musically Valgard came up with the idea behind Sonar Dreyri and I followed the same path with Steg. The original plan was to give them a more similar expression (except the second riff in the end) but when the rest of the band had done their part the song had more depth. ‘Steg’ is Norwegian for ‘steps’ and the song wanders in a landscape, both lyrically and musically.

 What does it feel like to put your heart and soul to an album, when everyone can listen to music and lyrics and make their own interpretations? Is it like being naked or ashamed…?

Gaahl: In a way it’s quite baring. It’s a same thing with my paintings, and that’s one reason for that I haven’t shown them to many people. And I guess I would feel more naked with expressions that I do with paintings than with music. You can put so many aspects and feelings to music. Of course as an artist you have to always put yourself into your art, otherwise I don’t consider that as an art.

A few people have been very important during the existence of Trelldom. Could you describe these following persons with a few words…

Pytten (and Grieghallen):

Gaahl:  Trelldom couldn’t have worked like this with our three albums without Pytten. I don’t ever talk to him in musical terms, I talk to him in pictures. I paint a verbal picture to him when I tell him what I want and he is one who understands me. We really work well together so we definitely work with him in the future. But he’s turning sixty soon, so let’s see, heh heh. But he’s so serious with music. I met him first time in 1995 and I have worked with him with many projects and bands, so his experience, seriousness and ability to understand me is really essential for our music.

Sir Sick: Pytten has played an important role in my life musically and I have learnt a lot from him. He has, over time, developed a very good understanding of our sound and he understands where we want to go. I also share his passion for the technical part and we’re both educated in music.

 Valgard:

Gaahl: He definitely has his own character. He’s not so much into metal, but he takes lots of influences from the 70ies. I have known him for many, many years. He’s not the most patient person in this world, but with this album he forced himself to be patient, and therefore he also managed to put the guitars in a so creative way. I really like the way he plays his guitar.

Sir Sick: Valgard and Gaahl knew each other before I joined and Valgard had alleady made the first ideas that ended in Til Et Annet….  Trelldom is Valgard’s only project these days.

 Sir Sick:

Gaahl: He’s not just a musician, he’s a real talent. He can do probably anything with music.

 Gaahl:

Sir Sick: Most people know Gaahl as the founder of Trelldom and he is also the author of all the lyrics. Besides writing lyrics he participates in shaping the songs and the ideas that Valgard and I come up with.

 And in general, what is the bond between you two and Valgard? What has kept you together for all these years?

Gaahl: I don’t know actually. Hmm… It’s difficult to put this to words. Well, for me the whole concept of Trelldom is something what I keep in my mind every single day, and these are just the right people to work with this concept. Sir Sick and Valgard are the characters who can help me to express myself. We can work apart of each other, but when we come together, it’s kinda magic. There have never been any big conflicts in Trelldom.

Sir Sick: We share a passion for the artistic and that’s the main reason. We are also careful about giving each other enough elbowroom, something that helps in the long run. We have been working under the same conditions since we first started and the fact that we don’t rush things makes it very comfortable.

 It’s interesting and esteemed how Trelldom has always come back, although there have been several years between these three albums. What keeps Trelldom alive? And what activates Trelldom – is it just an inspiration or something else?

Sir Sick: As I already mentioned, our passion for the artistic plays an important role. Trelldom is also a very personal project to us and a way for us to express ourselves. It’s a simple and honest product created without any commercial interests whatsoever.

 I noticed that many reviews about Til Minne… said that this album is a great return of old Norse Black Metal… Do you agree with these statements, that Trelldom is music of the past?

Gaahl: I never think that way, this is just the sound I want to maintain: an old and honest sound. I guess this the reason why people are mixed with old days, they lack of originality and their own sound anymore. They use more plastic sound, and they took only one sound for one song and use it for other songs also. So they don’t work with every song as an individual element. But back to your question: I don’t see us returning to anything, this is just the result of being honest. Trelldom is Trelldom. I feel difficult to work with a concept of old black metal, because it’s not old for me, it’s always in my mind.

– And what comes to production, it’s extremely well-done for this time. It’s an organic sound, which is breathing… I think Til Minne… is an album which will just grow, grow and grow and sell still after 13 years. I’m really satisfied with this album. Usually I’m a bit tired when I go out of the studio and you don’t want to listen to your creation, but on this album the feeling is just growing even for myself.

Sir Sick: I do see the similarities to early Black Metal, but this is in no way music from the past. We have developed further other elements except the sound itself. The way the songs develop and the concept itself is new. The sources of inspiration are in many ways the same though.

How about you, do you live this moment or are your eyes looking into the past or the future?

Gaahl: I live in this moment, but I’m coloured by what I have been. I will try to work with this concept that when I’m ninety, I can look back and be proud of what I have done. So all these three times are involved, but mainly it’s the past and the present that rule this creation, because I am everything what I have been.

Sir Sick: I live from day to day, but I have a clear vision of where I’m going. I try to devote most of my time to the art and have distanced myself from political and social comments. I also have a strong interest in the past, especially in respect to art. We live in a fast paced world and people should pay more respect to that of the past.

Now here’s a good moment to be socially critical a bit – what do you think, is this world going to worse with time or is this just pure evolution for a better tomorrow? And if you could decide, what kind of a world would we wake up in tomorrow?

Gaahl: I don’t see much progress, heh, because too many people are feeling too comfortable nowadays, especially in the Western world. They don’t want to rise up against anything, because they are afraid of losing their share. So it’s a difficult situation for any progress, but I think this will go reverse, things have to turn. That’s my ideal utopia. But everyone has to start with himself, nobody can wake up his neighbour. So it goes back to one’s own action and maybe, just maybe to affecting others. We have to rise up and go back where we came from.

Sir Sick: The environmental issues are a fact and if nothing is done we will pay the consequences in the future.  Paying attention to these issues and living a more healthy life is something more and more people fortunately do these days. I don’t believe that we should be blame everything on global warming though. It is really important to care about the environment.

Let’s concentrate on you for the end, Gaahl. One scene from that US documentary (VBS.TV) has stayed in my mind, the one where you lead these three guys to your grandparents’ cabin and the guys just become breathless and weak while you just keep going. This scene got me thinking about the meaning of physical strength in Black Metal – how do you see this situation? The healthy man is strong with his mind and with his body, but how to keep these in balance?

Gaahl: The physical and spiritual aspects are very connected, but we are breeding up people who will not survive in the nature. People are getting weaker and weaker. Nowadays we are respecting only humanism, and by time humans lose their respect on themselves – and one example of this is that video, heh.

– But back to that video, he at least had guts to express his mood. And when we finally got up to the cabin, he thanked me for forcing him to this. But when we got back to my house, he just freaked out, he was shaking and was in really bad condition. So because he was living in safe environment, this was too much for his nerves also. So this was really a situation which was also physically and mentally challenging for him.

 What do you feel when people from USA travel to Norway just to have a chat with you? Is it annoying, admirable or something else?

Gaahl: I don’t know actually, but at least I haven’t got used to it. If you don’t lose yourself in this situation, it’s okay. I’m a bit eccentric, and it’s interesting to see how people react to my behaviour. I was really wondering if I want to do this, but then I thought why not. However I don’t have anything with the result. They had 41 hours of raw material so of course I was nervous how they will cut this to pieces and what would be the result. But it’s interesting to think, how and why people want to do this, what piece they choose and what not. Again it comes back to this thing being naked, but I wanted to do it because I want to reflect to myself. I’m originally very shy, but maybe that was the reason why I did it.

Or can we just think that these all documentaries and interviews just serve the bigger meaning – you are not important but the message…

Gaahl: That’s what I hope it would be on a personal and on a universal level, because many people will see this documentary on festivals for example. And here in Norway many see me as a madman imprisoned because of violence but now I let people to have a dialogue with me and I think it will affect people in a very positive way. It’s something what people can recognise in themselves and I believe a reincarnation of memory in a way, a big genetic memory, which will go back to time before Christianity, back to the nature, back to the time where humans had an ability to become gods. To become alive and not just sit and wait to die.

We have different kinds of roles, so is Gaahl of Gorgoroth a different person than Gaahl of Trelldom?

Gaahl: They are different parts of a same person, but they are definitely connected. A human has so many different sides and many characters, and they all are tied together to become what is me. People have difficulties to understand that one can express himself in different ways and be in different moods. In one second you can change the whole feeling. But to be a human you have to have many different characters. You have to divide yourself at least to nine different sectors, because I believe in these nine worlds.

One difference is that you don’t use any masks in Trelldom anymore. What do you want to say with this decision? That you are more yourself with Trelldom maybe?

Gaahl: Yes, definitely. Trelldom is a dialogue towards myself and a journey to inwards, so there’s much more me as true and complete. But Gorgoroth acts towards something, it’s more like a war situation than Trelldom. Also Trelldom is at war with Christianity and the Western world in general, but it’s a more patient warrior, trying to remind what one is and where one is coming from, while Gorgoroth is directly attacking towards who it sees as enemies. But we have to fight like this, to many directions to not become opponents of ourselves. It’s important to remember what one is and where one is coming from.

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