I have some obsessions that make me swallow anything from certain sources. One of them is the duo Apollyon – Aggressor. Give me Dødheimsgard, give me Aura Noir, give me Cadaver, give me Ved Buens Ende – I’ll swallow every bit. So it isn’t a surprise that Virus, Aggressor’s alias Czral’s alias Carl-Michael Eide’s weird rock/metal creation, has pushed pleasure nerves in my mind. Virus has both twists and a groove, and their songs are like hypnotic mazes where I gladly like to throw myself into.
Virus’ second album, The Black Flux (2008) was a total treat for my ears, and the band made a same trick again with The Agent that Shapes the Desert last year. But as Eide mentions in this interview, every old release turns to shit in his mind with time. Fortunately I can’t agree with Eide in this case: The Black Flux sounds as refreshing and innovative as four years ago.
Norway has spewed very weird tales and mysterious characters, and the story of Carl-Michael ”Czral” Eide is one of them. This multitalented gentleman has gathered fame and recognition in many ways, be it Aura Noir’s furious black/thrash metal, Dødheimsgard’s candid mix of black metal and industrial, Ved Buens Ende’s adventures in avant-garde or Cadaver Inc’s cold death/black metal. This guy has played drums like a maniac, howled like a wolf, written tons of catchy riffs and of course – dropped from a fourth floor building.
But now he’s here again, harassing our rock/metal nerves with a new Virus album, The Black Flux. And when I say ‘harassing’, I really mean it: although you get very easily hooked by these dangerously soothing riffs, Einar Sjursö’s rhythmic drumming and Eide’s distinctive vocals, it’s hard to categorize Virus. Eide himself describes it “an eccentric rock band, like a mixture of Talking Heads and Voivod”, but you could go with thousands of other depictions… Well, who cares? Listen to this album! Read these answers! Go and blow your mind! C’est la vie!
Let’s get a semantic start: Virus is an effective name for a band but what would be the cure for a virus called Virus?
– Maybe we could play some of our music backwards, and check out if that would reverse things. Maybe our music could be some kinda cure. If they found out that music could cure things, I’d consider starting to play live again. Just the thought of touring hospitals up and down the country is kinda intriguing. Having nurses taking care of catering and helping us carrying our gear back to the tour-bus afterwards. Stuff like that. Cool scenario.
You were on hiatus for a long time and for many reasons. How do you see this time afterwards? Was it all necessary to create such an album like The Black Flux?
– Yes, it was necessary. But not because I wanted a come-back, because I wanted things to return back to normal. This time, though, I wanted to make the best out of it. Having the patience to work with the music until it felt right. Really diving in to the matter of the music, taking care of every detail. I don’t know if that’s because I’m more grown up now, taking things more seriously, or if it was a subconscious thing to make up for time lost. Looking back at that time now, I’ve forgotten most of it. Not because it was traumatic, but because I’ve been looking ahead, taking care of my future and my life in general.
Did you feel that Ved Buens Ende and Written in Waters were a burden from the past to you? I guess it was clear from the start that people will compare The Black Flux to Written in Waters, no matter what would happen…
– To some extent, yes. But I can’t allow myself to throw shit at that record. It would be disrespectful towards our fans. But it’s like this looking back at every record we’ve made with any band I’ve been in; I can’t listen to them without feeling some kind of shame or feeling that they’re generally shit. So I have to admit that I think that the VBE album is shit, when I take a musicians’ critical look at it. The opener is a good song, but it stops there. Anyway, hearing people comparing those albums doesn’t affect me. It’s ok. It’s just a matter of time now, until I feel The Black Flux is shit too, anyway.
How old is material on The Black Flux, by the way? Are there any old riffs going on, or is this purely today’s material?
– A couple of riffs are really old. The two last tracks on the album have riffs that are 13-14 years old.
Although you don’t want to create too strong strings between Virus and Ved Buens Ende, the truth is that The Black Flux is a very distinct follow-up to Written in Waters, despite 13 long years between these two releases. But there, somewhere, is also Carheart, which is standing totally on its own feet. How do you see this effective triangle of albums – is one of those higher than the others in your ranking, or are these just different sides of the same form?
– Yes, I guess they are nuances of the same thing. But I think there’s more of a Written in Waters atmosphere on The Black Flux than there’s Carheart. First of all, on Carheart we were on a special vibe while doing that album. We wanted it to be all over the place atmospherically. We wanted it to be kinda “crazy”, you know. We were focusing more on taking it to an absurd level than on making a focused album.
– When we recorded Written in Waters, I don’t think we knew very much what we were doing. We were too young to be conscious about it. But on The Black Flux…I think we’re just too old now to do things without having some kind of thought behind it. We wanted this album to sound like the end of the world. Not in an “Armageddon” sort of way, but in a more personal individual way.
And if we broaden our view from this, we can see the wider perspective in the form of different bands: DHG, Aura Noir, Cadaver (Inc.)… Are these bands (or have these bands been) all necessary for you and your growth as a musician/artist?
– Well, of course I’ve gathered valuable experience. I used to be a hungry drummer. I really enjoyed playing drums in the early days, and I really had ambition. Though, after I started “practicing”, I lost my intuition while playing. I started focusing on playing drums correctly rather than instinctively. That’s when I realized that I needed to go back to mainly composing and playing guitar. Especially now, with my injuries, it’s good to have this to fall back on, and this is where my focus lies now.
Do you have still any desire to embark on a fully new musical platform, do something what couldn’t be done with your past bands and projects? Any wish to collaborate with someone in particular, or are you content creating material on your own?
– I’ve always wanted to make film music. Other than that I’ll focus on doing what I’ve done all the time. Composing and recording albums. If some of the musicians I know and admire would like to do a project with me, I’d go for it. But I’m not the typical guy who takes initiative on stuff like that, so they’d have to approach me.
I don’t believe that anyone can be such a chameleon that he/she could transform totally from a band to another, so there must be that same “inner Czral” in every band. What kind of a person is that guy?
– Contrary to what a lot of people would like to hear, I’m quite your average Joe, actually. I feel quite normal, even though I like to write weird music, and to work with different kinds of music. Not too much I can say apart from that, really. Other people would have to fill in.
If you transform musically, there is also a bizarre masquerade going on if we look at the band photos on The Black Flux. I wonder if there is a proper background behind them…?
– Well, only Plenum (the bassist on The Black Flux -ed.) wore make-up this time. Plenum and Einz’ pictures were taken in a studio, while mine was taken outside. What we did on my picture was; we took one picture without flash, and straight after we took one with flash. Then we digitally manipulated the flash-picture of my face on to the picture without flash, so everything except a clean cut-out of my face is from the picture without flash. The reason for my pupils being so enhanced (people think I’m on drugs) is that they’d adapted to the darkness from before the flash. Of course we took some close-ups of my mouth and we manipulated an enlarged mouth on to the face. A little Inland Empire inspired, of course.
And connected to this outlook and making visual shocks: If Virus were play to live, how the ideal setting would be like? Feel free to exploit this in a purely imaginative sense.
– Well, maybe having Tarkovsky’s Stalker going on in the background, and some caged peacocks, mirrors, some midgets running around with flash-lights, Einz in a Elizabeth I kind of dress. Plenum naked smoking a pipe, a choir, two session guitar players in ski-jump-suits, and me in a cool suit looking cool.
The Black Flux sounds very progressive but rocking at the same time which is a very interesting mix. Although the riffs and the song structures are far from typical, many parts on this album stick to one’s ears almost like a hit cavalcade… Did you have this kind of goals during the making of The Black Flux: to make an album which would be challenging but not too abstract?
– Yes, after a while we started realizing that this would become a mix of groovy/catchy and difficult/avant-garde. And we cultivated that. This is the essence of Virus. It’s how we want it to sound. Thank you for saying so.
The drum rhythms are one of the key elements in my opinion: that stomping drumming style gives a nice and simple background for the waving riffs and vocals. Because Einar Sjursö has been in the band from the start, he must have a strong role in your music. How would you describe Sjursö’s style and the bond between you two?
– Einar is the one I’ve played with for the longest time. We jammed together before VBE even, and we know each other inside out. I think our styles of playing have “fused” in some ways. It’s a hand in glove thing going on. He’s got a unique and “unselfish” style on the drums. Very groovy. He’s the best studio-musician around. He did this whole album in nine hours, including sound check. We rehearse only the two of us, and Plenum kicks in during recordings.
I sense lots of abstract, absurd and dream-like vibes on The Black Flux, like a mellow dream under the surface, so easy-going and natural that you could think these songs are coming from your spine, almost unconsciously. What kind of things, happenings etc. were your inspiration while writing this album – or was it just the good ol’ “sit down, take your guitar and start playing” method?
– I just make the riffs, and do some thinking around what would suit them vocal-wise and sometimes around what effects and arrangements would do the trick. It’s basically a sit-down with the guitar at home. Then me and Einar jam and make the final arrangements in the rehearsal room. The rest is done in the studio. It’s very simple, really. This time we got a lot of ideas in the studio. So one could say that the album has made itself in some ways. But the base of the music lies in the riffs.
I don’t want to get too profound with the lyrics, but I raise one card up. There seems to have been recurring themes in your lyrics from the Ved Buens Ende days, all the way via Aura Noir to Virus, such as deserts and birds of prey such as vultures and condors. Why these exact images and where do they stem from?
– I’ve always had a fascination for large birds, for some reason… But the lyrics are there to fulfill the musical landscape. It’s a necessity. If I were to do a side-project by myself, it would be instrumental – mainly because I’m not very productive when it comes to lyrics. I find it hard. It’s very rare that it comes naturally. When it does, it’s a pleasure, of course, but it rarely does. Working with the lyrics like we have done now, together with other writers, has been easier and more pleasurable. Amniotic sac and Kvohst are true poets. They are high-level absurdists.
You’ve thrown an impressive influence list on the Virus myspace page: traditional metal, rock and pop mixed with early avant-garde like Eric Satie and tons more. Is this just bragging, a compromise or is the musical background of Virus so wide and multileveled?
– I don’t know to what degree these are influences, but they are stuff we like. We all have really broad taste in music. But since we’re so out there, there’s probably a little taken from everything listed there. Everything from East-European folk music to early thrash metal.
I must get back to Satie who has been popping to my thoughts quite often lately. As said, he was one of the first real avant-garde musicians, making long, repetitive songs which get under your skin in a dangerous way – maybe something in common with Virus there, heh? Anyway, Satie was really breaking the borders in the turn of the 19th and 20th century, but how about today, is it possible to break any borders or is everything discovered and done already? Maybe the personal borders will remain ad infinitum?
– Well, I think geniuses at that time were few and far between. Today, there’s virtually millions of bands, and hundreds of thousands wanting to do something unique. It’s really hard to get noticed for what you’re doing. Anyway, I think most of the borders are broken. The only thing you can do now to stand out is to have a weird blend of things, or just to be really good. In those old days you mention, you really needed to be a bona fide genius to get noticed. Bona fide geniuses are few. Erik Satie… I mean, he’s something else… He’s a pioneer. And pioneers are VERY few and far between.
Even looking back, can you remember any motive behind going more and more “out there” with your music? Was there a conscious effort to break some new ground and push the envelope, at least inside the musical spectrum you were connected with at the time (the black metal scene)?
– It was never purely a conscious effort. It was, on my behalf, because of my musical background. I was surrounded by music growing up, and a lot of that music was avant-garde. My cool aunt Elizabeth introduced me to The Residents and Holy Toy when I was a kid, for example. My mother listened to foreign folk music. It was all around me while I was discovering “extreme metal” on my own. But I never felt a part of any movement. The black metal boy’s club disintegrated along with Øystein Aarseth anyway. I was never a part of that totalitarian thing. I never minded what the other die-hards that were left in the early mid-nineties did or thought. I was in my own bag, wanting to make something that would suck the listener in. Vacuum metal.
Well, now it’s a good time to bring two bands to this picture: Aura Noir and Infernö, which both are/have been your bands and which are concentrating on the more humorous and loose side of rock/metal. Is Aura Noir, for example, wading in more shallow waters than the more surreal and aesthetic Virus, or do you see any controversy between these two bands?
– The Aura Noir music is something that’s in our blood. We’re on a vibe, or a groove, that’s primal. It’s a totally different planet than the avant-garde. It’s primal, testosterone, banging your head. Rage. You know…. Metal. To me, since I grew up with it, spending all my money on the obvious classics, it’s hard to explain. Metal came to me. Those old records. You know… Hell Awaits, Rrröööaaarrr, To Mega Therion…. I’m all religious about them.
And because you mentioned one of Voivod’s albums and to conclude all this with another semantic dilemma; who’s the god and who’s the dog?
– I’m the dog, and my cat Critters is the god.