Goatwhore 2021: (L to R) Zack Simmons (Drums), Robert "TA" Coleman (Bass), Louis B. Falgoust II (Vocals), Sammy Duet (Guitars, Vocals)
Photo by Peter Beste

With COVID-19 vaccinations now underway, there unfortunately remains a small but vocal minority who generate skepticism of the vaccine with extreme conspiracy theories. However I’m sure they weren’t counting on people like Goatwhore guitarist Sammy Duet, taking their message a bit differently.

“It’s supposed to have a microchip in it, and the mark of the beast,” he says.

“I’ve been waiting for this!”

Duet has also been patiently waiting for the return of live music, both as a musician and a fan, and tomorrow (Saturday, January 9th) Goatwhore finally returns to the stage for a special livestream performance. Streaming from an undisclosed location in Florida, Duet promises more than just a jamspace set, with professional lighting and multiple cameras. But I had to make sure that he was going to strap on his trademark spikes for the occasion.

“Of course, man!” he exclaims.

“You think we’re gettin’ lazy in our old age?!”

Goatwhore has been steadily working on a new album since 2019. Their most recent release was 2017’s Vengeful Ascension, and it was around that time that Duet (also a veteran of acclaimed bands Acid Bath and Crowbar) really started to notice the band’s increased popularity. For over 2 decades the New Orleans outfit gigged hard and spread their signature black/death/thrash blend city by city, town by town, and they now find themselves regularly in the headline slot.

“It only took us 25 years!” says Duet laughing loudly.

“Especially after Vengeful Ascension came out I started realizing, looking back on when we first started, how far the band has come. If you would have told me when we first started doing Goatwhore that I would be where I’m at right now as far as the fanbase and the touring, I would have told you (that) you were fucking insane.”

The band won’t be playing any new material during tomorrow's show, as Duet thinks it’s possible the songs may not sound the same once they get into the studio. Recording sessions for the new album are set to begin February 15th, with the band looking to pick around 10 of the 16 songs they’ve written. In the meantime Duet has been busy hanging out with fans on his Instagram livestream. Although Duet has always been friendly with fans, regularly chatting with them before and after sets, I was a bit surprised as to how much he's embraced social media.

“I was just basically gonna post pictures of my guitars and my cats, I wasn’t gonna do anything beyond that,” he says.

“It kinda blew up from there (laughs). It got a lot bigger than I thought it would. I thought it would only be a bunch of guitar nerds. I have to do a livestream every Sunday. People wanna hang out and talk, just bullshit, and listen to tunes. It’s a good thing for me to have because I love our fans, and I love communicating with our fans, and meeting (them) as much as I possibly can. I’m not on tour and hanging out with everybody, so this is the best I can do for now.”

"These 2 certain things that make my life very amazing, it was either keep them or keep the alcohol."

Before the pandemic began Duet was already a homebody, so with the exception of not being able to attend the occasional show, his routine hasn’t changed much. The biggest event for him in recent memory is celebrating 1 year being completely clean and sober. Not being on tour during a crucial time in his sobriety ended up being helpful, and he’s ready for the challenge of returning to the road.

“I feel that (because) I wasn’t able to be around that temptation, it actually worked out (in) that I’m becoming a lot stronger within my willpower, rather than if I’d been on tour 6 months ago,” he says thoughtfully.

“I might not have been able to resist. (When) I’m playing a show, people are offering me drugs and alcohol, and there’s a bar right there. The temptations when playing a live show if you’re an alcoholic or a drug addict are tremendous. I feel pretty strong and pretty confident that I can do this without having to get fucked, y’know! (laughs). It’s all about what I can do besides drinking to kill time. You can get really creative if you want to, or, you can do what you’re supposed to and practice your instrument. You only… how can I say this?.. You’re only as good as you think you are. There’s always room for improvement. That’s my plan. Right now, where I stand, I’m completely infatuated with my instrument again. Completely, 100%. I have a new found love for it, you might say. Not that I ever didn’t, but I feel like my love for the guitar has come back to where I was like 14 years old again. That’s all I think about now!” (laughs)

I mentioned to Duet that I’d noticed that many people I know had given up alcohol during quarantine, with my own intake dropping drastically. So when I first heard of his sobriety I made the assumption that the downtime was his catalyst as well, when in fact he got sober a few months earlier.

“(There are) a couple of things that are very dear to me, that I came very close to losing because of my drinking,” he says carefully.

“So it was time to kick myself in the ass. These 2 certain things that make my life very amazing, it was either keep them or keep the alcohol. I’m not gonna go in detail about what these 2 things were. Let’s just say I didn’t choose the alcohol.” 

"I tend to lean more towards the devil worshipping side of things."

While Sammy’s life is more of an open book these days, he’s always kept his more personal beliefs shrouded in mystery. In one of our earliest interviews, I recalled asking Duet about the Satanic elements in the band’s music and artwork. His response at the time was to say that he didn’t talk about those things, because of the way he believes in them. Since then I had always wanted to know if he was being sincere when he said that, or if perhaps he was playing things up for a then-bright-eyed baby journalist.

“Yes, that’s absolute truth!” he says with a hint of enthusiasm.  

“What I do with my spirituality behind closed doors, is my business. I have a very different outlook on the way people perceive… worship of the devil. I keep that very, very private, and it’s a very personal thing to me as far as going into the details. There is to me a difference between being a Satanist, and being a devil worshipper. I tend to lean more towards the devil worshipping side of things. I was into (Satanism) for a while, and it’s still cool. I would definitely take that over Christianity any day of the week. That was almost like a gateway to what brought me to where I am now as far as my spirituality goes. What I believe in and what I practice is very, very different from that. But we all love that Satan guy! It’s all in how you show him how much you love him!” (audibly smiling)

Sammy Duet's "Circle of Evocation"

This response, mixed with Goatwhore’s malevolent lyrical content and artwork, would make one think that Duet’s beliefs run throughout his creative work. But in fact, he keeps the majority of them out of it. While he approves of bands like Watain who put the spiritual aspect of their music front-and-center in their lyrics and live shows, it’s not something he’s interested in doing.

“I don’t want people to understand,” he says.

“This is my thing that I fuckin’ developed. It’s a mishmash of different ideas and philosophies. It’s for me, it’s not for everyone else. Very, very little of that stuff creeps into the lyrics. The way I kind of word it, it’s extremely abstract. You have to kind of know what I’m talking about to find it. When I’m writing lyrics I like to keep it a little weird and not straightforward. You can definitely see the difference between the lyrics that I write, and the lyrics that (vocalist) Ben (Falgoust) writes. Where Ben’s are almost like tongue in cheek, fuckin’ straight up, and I like to make it more clouded, where it kind of doesn’t make sense but it does make sense.”

This duality has always been the most intriguing aspect of Duet’s character. He’s incredibly friendly and warm, with a wicked old-school sense of humour. You always feel like you’re speaking to the real Sammy. While the music of Goatwhore is dark, seeing them play has always been about having a good time with a big smile on your face. So although Duet isn’t up for sharing the deeper aspects of his spirituality, he did share one insight into his practices that only served to cement the dualistic image of him in my mind.

“Something, gave me an idea for some of the artwork that was in (the 2014 album) Constricting Rage of the Merciless,” he says carefully.

“There are certain pieces of artwork (where) something was speaking through me that wasn’t me, that came up with the idea for this piece of artwork that’s on that record. It’s almost like a circle of evocation. I wrote those phrases inside the circle, I have no recollection of that. It’s like when you’re half asleep and but you’re half awake, almost like sleepwalking. Something that I was calling at that period of time, was definitely answering. That piece of artwork was some of the answer that this thing gave me.”

Goatwhore’s livestream concert airs tomorrow, Saturday January 9th, at 6PM EST. Tickets are $12 USD, and you’ll be able to watch the show for 48 hours after the broadcast. You can also stream the Vengeful Ascension album in full below.

Fuck The Facts 2020: (L to R) Melanie Mongeon (vocals), Mathieu Vilandre (drums), Topon Das (guitar)
Photo by Anndy Negative

Ottawa’s Fuck The Facts have recently returned after a 5 year absence with a new album, Pleine Noirceur. What began as a basement tape project with an unmarketable name from guitarist/founder Topon Das, has since gone on to grab 2 Juno nominations and international recognition. All the while playing an avant-garde form of grindcore, arguably extreme metal’s most inaccessible subgenre. What sets Fuck The Facts apart sonically from many of their peers, is their ability to craft extreme metal music that effectively conveys heartfelt emotion, even if the listener doesn’t necessarily know it.

"We’re definitely not a grindcore band."

“Emotion’s a big part of the writing, I love emotional music,” says Das.

“I grew up listening to the (the 1992) Paradise Lost (album) Shades of God, early Katatonia, a lot of early doom stuff that’s not grindcore at all. But that’s where I get a lot of my melodic ideas, that I even use in some of our grindy-er stuff. We’re definitely not a grindcore band. The influence is there, but I know someone’s like ‘Oh, grindcore!’ and they click on our stuff, they’re gonna be like ‘What the fuck, (laughs) this doesn’t sound like Wormrot or Rotten Sound!’ They’re gonna be very confused. We’re always kind of attached (to) that tag. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, but musically we have so many different influences. We’d be cheating ourselves if we didn’t embrace all these different ideas and make the music that we really wanna make. This album, if feels like a Fuck The Facts album to me because it has all those hills and valleys, and it has all the dynamics, and has different ideas. There’s definitely periods with the band where I kinda felt a little bit stifled, or constrained artistically. I was like, ‘Oh can we do this, cause we’re that Canadian grindcore band?’ I always hated that feeling because it’s not in my personality. My mind goes a million miles an hour when I sit down and I start to think about ideas, it goes everywhere. That’s (the kind of music) I’d like the band to put out. I just feel like we’re open to doing anything, and I feel like we’ve got back to that. We’re not like an amazing death metal band, or an amazing grindcore band, but we grab all these influences and we manage to make it our own thing. I think we do that really well.”

Their previous album, 2015’s self-released Desire Will Rot, was responsible for their 2nd Juno nomination and they promoted it with touring in Canada, the U.S, and Europe. But then things seemed to go quiet for some time. I knew that Das was busy with his recording studio, Apartment 2, not to mention raising 2 kids with vocalist Melanie Mongeon. But I hadn’t realized that despite their enthusiastic performances on that tour, the album title was more personal than they let on.

“When we did Desire Will Rot, it’s (called that) because of what was going on,” says Das frankly.

“Really whenever we do anything we’re talking about our own lives and the way we feel. When we went and did all those tours and we put out that album, we knew that that might be it. It’s nothing that we wanted to make public. But we did all that stuff knowing it was just gonna stop and we were all gonna go about doing our own thing, and whatever happens, happens. It was a much needed change. I kept busy the whole time, I was recording other peoples’ bands, I worked at a venue doing live sound. I haven’t been away from music. (When) we got back together it was me reaching out to Vil (drummer Mathieu Vilandre) to see if we just wanted to start jamming, and see what came of it. I think the last 2-3 years that we toured and did stuff heavily, I wasn’t really enjoying it. I kept doing it because I was so used to doing it and going through those motions. But it was just becoming a job and it wasn’t enjoyable like it was before. Some of the situations that we were in, some of the shows that we were doing, you get to this point where you’re like ‘Why am I here? Why am I on the other side of the world playing to 10 people?’ That stuff’s a lot of fun but it makes more sense when you’re 25 than when you’re 35 and then 40. It’s like, I should be at home with my kids at this point in my life”

Although what Das describes seems a natural part of life as an underground musician who starts a family, it did come as a little bit of a surprise to me. Their personal lives always seemed inextricably linked to the band. There are of course memories of the videos that circulated through the underground of Mongeon performing while she was very pregnant. But in general, having a family didn’t seem to affect Fuck The Facts as band. But that’s not what was going on beneath the surface.

“Before, it was always like the band comes first, everything else comes second,” says Das.

“If you have a job, then fuck it, you have to quit that job so we can go on tour. Now, Mel had the opportunity to take a full-time position at her job that she loves. We bought a house. Vil bought a house. Everyone has real-life responsibilities, we can’t just jump on the road and do a grindcore tour like we used it. When my first daughter was born we did shows in L.A. and Mel was pregnant and she gave birth (10 days later). Then we were back on the road (for) a 5 week tour and then we went to Europe. It didn’t really slow us down. It’s a good thing but it’s also a complication that both Mel and I are in the band. Both the parents are leaving and the kids (are) staying at the grandparents for a couple months. I definitely miss my kids and I know for Mel it was even more difficult to be away. When I started the band I was like ‘I’m gonna tour until I die. I’m gonna do all this stuff until I die.’ Then I got older and things just kinda changed.”

"When I started in my dad’s basement with a 4-track, this shit didn’t even exist, I just kinda like, did it."

So the band began their unannounced hiatus. With no plans to jam, record, or tour in the near future, they settled into life without Fuck The Facts for the first time in 15 years. Das spent his days recording and mixing bands at Apartment 2, and nights working at the venue. But the door never closed on restarting the band. So after some time apart they began to drift back together. But this time it was on their terms, and the album that would become Pleine Noirceur developed slowly.

“There was a year or so where (the band) didn’t do anything at all,” he says.

“This album we’ve kinda been working on behind the scenes for a while. Mel and I first talked about jamming, and (then) I talked to Vil. At this point I’ve been jamming with Vil for like 15 years, so it’s really easy chemistry. We just started (jamming) like once a week. When we were at our peak, when we were busy like crazy, we’d jam like 4 times a week. But this time there wasn’t any intention of like ‘We’re gonna work on an album.’ When the band stopped, I put all this shit in the rearview mirror. I’m totally out of the loop of what new band is out or what (they’ve released). I didn’t check any of the gossipy metal sites or read anything about anyone because I (was) tired of all this and (didn’t) want to pay attention. I feel like it could be the least ‘tainted’ album and the most ‘pure’ in the way of us really just doing what we wanted to do. When I started in my dad’s basement with a 4-track, this shit didn’t even exist, I just kinda like, did it. That’s kind of the same thing, and I think that’s a really fun thing that came out of it.  We could have just jammed and like 6 months later been like ‘Ah, I’m not feeling this, alright see ya,’ and everything would have been cool. We’ve put something together that we’re actually really proud of and felt like it was worth releasing. It wasn’t for a tour or a label. We made a pressing, and we’ll sell the pressing and everyone kind of moves on and we’ll see what’s next.”

“What’s next?” is a very good question at this point. At the end of 2019 Das left his job at the venue to spend more time with his kids. He also wants to work on more music, as the band hasn’t had a chance to jam since the pandemic started. In the meantime they’ve been putting together ideas on their own in the hopes that it won’t be another 5 years before they release their next album. But even taking on Fuck The Facts on a limited basis can rub up against family, triggering memories of life before their hiatus.

“Mel and I, we were working on packing all the pre-orders for this album and going kinda nuts because we both have jobs during the day,” Das says laughing.

“Then we spent all our evenings packing orders. We sent our kids to the grandparents just so we could spend the weekend packing orders, and we had that moment like ‘Fuck this is crazy! It’s awesome, but this is crazy!’ Mel was like, ‘Sometimes I just feel like quitting the band but I know I’m just gonna end up back here anyway!’ (laughs) Those moments, just a little flashback to when you’re like ‘This is so crazy that we’re doing this!’ I definitely would love to play more shows. Ideally if we didn’t have this pandemic we would be playing some album release shows. We were supposed to play Maryland Deathfest in May, and then that all shit the bed. That would have been fun. We just gotta play it by ear and see what happens and do what feels right.”

Mongeon working on album pre-orders
Via Instagram

Ultimately it seems like Das has achieved his goal of having a good work/life balance, with Fuck The Facts still a part of both, but not the dominant factor. The shutdown from the pandemic actually gave Das time to finish the album and be with his family, and he recognizes the good position he’s in. Despite the aforementioned “hills and valleys” of Fuck The Facts’ music, Das himself never seems quite as complicated.

“We’re actually in a pretty lucky situation,” he says.

“My oldest is back in school. My youngest is at daycare. Mel works from home. I’m able to do a lot of my work from home as well. I’ve slowly starting doing some recording sessions at the studio. I’m sure it sucks worse for a lot of other people. Especially people who are living on their own, and especially younger people. But we have a family and everything, and all our jobs are intact. We’ve managed to cope pretty well. The studio, that’s my job, my main source of income. I balance it fairly well, that I still have free time and that I can still do things that I enjoy and I’m not gonna feel like life is just passing me by. Luckily I keep a pretty lowkey lifestyle, so I don’t need a lot in my life to make me happy.”

Fuck The Facts’ new self-released album Pleine Noirceur is available now. Buy a hard copy from the band, a digital copy from Bandcamp, and stream it on Spotify or YouTube. You can watch the videos for the title track, and “Ailleurs” below.

Enslaved 2020: (L to R) Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal (guitar), Håkon Vinje (keyboards, clean vocals), Grutle Kjellson (vocals, bass), Ivar Bjørnson (guitars), Iver Sandøy (Drums)
Photo by Roy Bjørge

It had been nearly 3 years since I’d seen or spoken to Enslaved guitarist Ivar Bjørnson when I reached him late one Norwegian evening. The band had just released their 15th(!) album Utgard, and I realized that it had also been 15 years since I began listening to them. Their blend of psychedelic progressive rock and black metal was an immediate hit with my senses. Admittedly I caught on to Enslaved about half-way through their ascent to becoming international heavy metal headliners, and an award-winning band at home in Norway. When I got into the band their music had already undergone a transformation from its more raw black metal beginnings, to the signature blended sound they’re known for. But Enslaved has never been a band to ignore their early days, and the old albums are performed live and re-released on a regular basis to show appreciation to the old-school fans, and that’s something that has informed their latest album.

“I think we came to terms with our own history without letting ourselves lie down and die,” says Bjørnson.

“The whole exercise of going back and playing old albums and relating to (them), is a bit of a risky one. That’s my experience, because you have to balance that with being relevant. I do think we did it in a way that left us with the best of both worlds. I think we allow the fans to romanticize and have a nostalgic relationship through (the 1994 album) Frost and all that stuff, without that being the opposite of being a fan of the music. I think we have an open dialogue there. If you wanna be a fan of Enslaved you’re welcome to come and go as you want, because we have been on a more-or-less steady path. Sometimes I’ve been a little bit confused myself, but I have to say on this one, on album number 15… a lot of the things done getting here make more sense now.”

Utgard again finds Enslaved seeped in Norse mythology and runic languages. It’s a concept album that continues where 2017’s E left off. That album dealt with the intertwined events of the creation of Odins’ 8-legged horse Sleipnir, and the gods building a great wall around Asgard, which Bjørnson describes as a “watershed” moment in the mythology.

“For this album we’re looking outwards, ‘What did they build a wall against? ‘What is this outside?’” he says.

“It’s also quite inspired by Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist, (and) his use of Norse mythology. It also (refers to) runosophy, the philosophy around rune magic and rune mysticism, as a metaphor for the unconscious. Both the pre-programmed software so-to-speak that Jung mentioned called the ‘common unconscious,’ (where) we are born with a set of archetypes to make the universe understandable to us, but also the individual part which is created as we go along. That’s what the album is about, the need for a unification, a two-way acceptance of the other. You can put it on a mythological scale. You can put it on the universal forces of chaos and order that we so much like to dabble (with) in metal. Even on a societal scale also, by oppressing all these things that once were natural to us, death and decay and love, all that stuff that’s been swept under the carpet is now coming back to bite us in the ass, to say it in an very un-Carl Jung-ish sort of way.” 

The more we learn about our own local variation of that history, which is mythology, I think we learn more about what being human is.”

My initial attraction to Enslaved’s music was their sound. Norse mythology had always been of interest since I was young, but then again there are plenty of bands who write about it. Over time I’ve come to appreciate some of the deeper implications of Enslaved’s lyrics and how the concepts raised within the mythology can relate to how we live today, but it was my passion for their music that got me there. So I was curious to know what Bjørnson would like someone like myself, who doesn’t have Norse mythology in their background, to take away from Enslaved’s lyrics.

“We’re obsessed with ‘Who migrated here and there, and where did those ancestors come from?’” he says thoughtfully.

“But that’s a lot of physical history and of course that’s interesting, but it’s missing one part and that’s the psychological story of humans. Mythology is the language of that, the very powerful unconscious that is driving development, and that’s creativity. Mythology is a common human trait. It’s been messed up quite heavily by these monotheistic religions, which all coincidentally also started out quite agnostic, or mythological. When it makes the transition from encouraging personal interpretation and introspection, into absolute dogmas, that’s when it becomes a religion (chuckles). So it’s not very different from the first religions that are discovered 10,000 years before, hmm… ‘The Carpenter.’ The Norse mythology is one of the later ones actually, and I guess that’s also the reason why it’s so popular in mainstream culture now is because it was allowed to exist for a long time quite far into the Middle Ages. There’s connections to Greek mythology, (and) pre-Judean, the Kabballah systems like the Tree of Life, which appears later in Norse mythology as Yggdrasil. The concepts are quite similar, and then they have these variations. If the people were living in deserts, the sun could be portrayed as the enemy. Up north, the sun was like the most popular guest ever to appear, when it did once a year. Those are just geographical variations on the same thing I think. It shouldn’t be alien. The more we learn about our own local variation of that history, which is mythology, I think we learn more about what being human is.”

Bjørnson at his home workstation. 

Naturally talk turns to the pandemic. Enslaved has maintained quite an active relationship with their fanbase during the shutdown, including streaming live shows. But for Bjørnson, someone who travels most of the year to make a living, being at home is a chance to spend more time with his wife and kids. But that doesn’t mean that the band is any less a part of his life these days.

“I haven’t been at home this much since I was 18 I think,” he says happily.

“That’s been a great thing. It’s taken a little bit of effort to get used to, but I realized that it’s also been extremely healthy. I have 2 daughters, and I’ve felt that I’ve already been away way too much. But it’s also what I do. There will always be sailors, truck drivers, military, people who are away for a long time. I happen to be a musician. But I’m really grateful that this time became a really good thing. It shows that we’re pretty good at adapting. Also the band has really come through. This is really a central thing in our lives. The touring has just been replaced by old-fashioned rehearsing, which has been very rewarding! I think Norway has been a fortunate place to be. It’s a big country, not too many people, and the concept of social distancing isn’t that far from what people do to begin with. The most heard joke this spring was like, ‘Well, I’m pretty glad all this hugging stuff is out the picture, finally.’ That was a half-joke, I’m also thinking there might some seriousness in it too.”

When I first reached Bjørnson that evening, I was ready to open with questions and comments about Utgard, but like many conversations these days, we immediately began talking about politics, the return of populism, and the proliferation of false conspiracy theories.  

“That kind of stuff it used to be like, fringe. But now it’s really weird how front and center the whole thing is,” he says.

“These things go so slowly, because we go from the 80s and 90s where it’s unimaginable, where it’s really just historical. Now, (during) the so-called (Presidential) ‘debate,’ that the whole world was focusing on, there was a statement (by U.S. President Donald Trump) to a particular political group (extreme right wing group the Proud Boys), who were told to ‘stand by’ or whatever weird things. That’s pretty much Europe 1935-36. The parallels are just, it’s the same. Now you see people on Facebook going, ‘Yeah, well, he does get people employed and that’s a good thing,’ and that’s also the same thing. It’s the worst. People are now, they’re dissatisfied, they’re pissed off because globalization has sort of created a common ideal for everyone. From the biggest cities in Europe and the U.S, to the most remote countryside in Asia or in Northern Europe, everyone’s in the same race, using the same measurement for success and happiness, and nobody’s obviously achieving it! Then you get all these populists pouring into politics now, and they’re giving people something to be pissed at. Low and behold, it’s the same thing again.”

(Euryonymous) was quite clear about that, that fascism, Naziism, is a cowardly way of trying to avoid the one true fact that every human being is a piece of shit.”

Heavy metal is certainly not immune to these issues, and unfortunately black metal still provides the most documented examples of Naziism in the genre, including the most well-known Nazi musician, Varg Vikernes and his one-man band Burzum. But for me the bigger issue has always been one of ambivalence by the metal community at large, especially concerning Vikernes who is embraced musically by many. Most of his fans will come up with the most acrobatic of explanations for why publicly praising Nazi-metal is ok, as long as they don’t share the violent beliefs of it’s creators. In metal, “separating the art from the artist” is often taken laughably too far. Nazi-metal even has its own sub-genre, tactfully named “National Socialist Black Metal” (NSBM) to avoid scrutiny. Bjørnson notes that there was a schism early on in the Norwegian black metal scene, between those who embraced Naziism and those who didn’t.

“NSBM (became) a thing of its own, which is a very good thing,” he says audibly smirking.

“Not that I’m concerned about those people having leisure time activities, but it’s better that they’re ‘over there.’ That was a result of some pretty strange resistance. (It) was the most ironic thing ever to begin with, as the 2nd Wave of Black Metal was initiated by (Mayhem guitarist) Euronymous who was a die-hard Communist. He was quite clear about that, that fascism, Naziism, is a cowardly way of trying to avoid the one true fact that every human being is a piece of shit.”

In 2009 Vikernes was released from prison after 15 years for the shocking murder of Euryonmous and his participation in church arsons, both of which have become eternally associated with the 90’s Norwegian black metal narrative, and he wasn’t shy about disparaging Enslaved in the media. Like myself, Bjørnson is also quite puzzled as to why there are metal fans of varying backgrounds who are comfortable listening to Burzum, as he doesn’t see Vikernes’ belief system and metal as being compatible on a cultural level.

“I remember when Mr. Burzum got out and started talking to the press again, first thing he did was complain about how black metal musicians were looking like hobos and Africans and gay and all that stuff,” he says.

“It kind of blows my mind that people will read that and then just… yeah, keep nodding off to their Burzum albums. That’s you he’s talking about! How he wants you to be exterminated and how you’re useless. He’s not joking. I can see that, as a culture that’s it’s sort of way of not having to engage in a sense. Obviously metal was not around the last time. But the populist, the fascist system is basically a nihilistic world view, it’s nothing because it’s all about power and money grabbing, and some weird uniform fetish. (It’s) the abandonment of anything, and especially, things having to do with culture. In the metal scene, we can sort of remove ourselves from thinking that we’re culture. ‘Ah culture’s for wimps! This is all about drinking beer and stuff!’ After they’ve gone a few rounds with the undesirables, they’re gonna be coming for the musicians and I promise you, metal is not gonna be on a list of things they wanna keep.”

Photo by Roy Bjørge

Despite this disparity, Bjørnson is also quick to note that metal’s influence in these areas is not nearly as impactful as what we have seen creep into mainstream culture. While the metal scene could certainly do more when it comes to these problems, Bjørnson feels that there has also been a lot of misspent energy, like when metal bands who use Pagan runes or World War II imagery are falsely accused of Naziism.

“The NSBM stuff is as obviously as bad as the marching Neo-Nazis, (but) I don’t think that (bands like) Motörhead or Marduk, whatever these characters have been using - World War II imagery, is what has turned the world into what it is today,” he says.

“(These bands) force people to face it in a sense. It’s a bad thing, and it’s a part of the modern mythology of society. I’m afraid that it has to be… you have to see those horrible photos and those things, because when there’s nothing to remind us of it, that’s when the deniers get a free minute. So I think it’s a drawback of human nature that we have to be reminded of that, and I think that popular culture portraying it is part of that. There’s been a discussion, there’s been a back-and-forth about that in the scene, to some extent. But of course it’s not good enough, but it’s still better than the mainstream, because that’s the problem. I’m not gonna mention band names, but even the dumbest and least sensitive, fetishized use of (Nazi) uniforms and stuff is nowhere near what is happening in the mainstream.”

The music of Enslaved exists to me on multiple levels, and no matter which one you choose to engage with, it’s always a memorable experience. There are blissed-out moments like the most transcendental parts of Dark Side of the Moon, balanced by savage landscapes of tremolo-drenched shredding. Beneath that lies a mythology that you can compare to your own, or enjoy from afar. Ultimately there’s as much or as little to unpack as you care to. But that’s not how I felt about speaking with Bjørnson that night, because there was absolutely a lot to unpack, whether you focus on Enslaved’s musical journey, or how they (and black metal as a whole) factor into a changing and divided world. After examining these ideas with Bjørnson, he had one final piece of advice.

“I would say to people… I’m not gonna say what they should do, but I would really advise people to remain vigilant, to actually take things at face value, and stop this whole stupid child game of ‘We’re fed up of being told the truth, so now we’re deciding the truth’” he says earnestly.

“Let that go. It’s not gonna get you anywhere if you have 5 million individual truths, because now we have people rebelling against natural law and science. It’s not gonna stop shitty weather by you declaring that you’ve decided that it’s different. If you go outside and it gets you wet, you can write whatever you want on Facebook about it, it’s still gonna be raining (laughs).”

You can find every way to stream and purchase Utgard here, and you can watch the video for the track "Jettegryta" below.

Rebecca Northcott Photography

Iconic singer Simone Denny has had one of the most varied careers in the history of Canadian music. In the mid-late 90s she became a house music legend from her Juno-winning work with the group Love Inc. She’s also the voice of the original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy theme, which ended up being played repeatedly during a memorable episode of South Park.

Most recently the Love Inc. hit “You’re A Superstar” closed the first season finale of Canada’s Drag Race, something that Denny was unaware of until it was happening.

“It was a surprise, I had no idea it was gonna happen” she says.

“I had been watching a few episodes and thinking, ‘it’s so strange, how come they’re not using any Love Inc. tracks? It’s Canadian, what’s happening?’ I didn’t get to watch the finale until my phone started blowing up. I jumped out of my seat and watched it. It was awesome, it was just a beautiful moment to witness, and to be remembered.”

On the other side of the musical spectrum, her 2015 collaboration with former Monster Voodoo Machine frontman Adam Sewell produced the alternative R&B solo album, The Stereo Dynamite Sessions Vol. 1. It’s a side of her sound that Denny intends to explore further, and she views it as an essential part of her musical identity.

“By no means is that done,” she says with conviction.

“I think a lot of people tend to forget that I was first and foremost a musician, and that I come out of live music. That’s where I got my start. I loved doing Stereo Dynamite, I enjoyed every minute of it. To be able to play with a band and have that camaraderie. To work with Adam and (co-writer) Justin (McWilliams) was a beautiful thing. The album was a little bit darker, but it’s exactly where I was at in my journey emotionally. So it was perfect for me.”

Sewell was introduced to Denny in the mid-90s by his wife, who was working for the label BMG, and he knew immediately that he wanted to work with her.

“It's such a weird pairing of people, but we get along so well, and we've done some incredible recordings and performances together,” he says.

“Standing next to her while she's singing at full strength is as close to a religious moment as I'm capable of having. One day Canada is going to look back and regret not supporting her the way she deserves.”

Jahlen Barnes Photography

While Denny has certainly had a fair amount of acclaim, Sewell’s statement rings true. For someone who has had such a prolific career, her name recognition at home is not at the level of some of her collaborators. To this day she continues to grind harder than others with less hits behind their belts, something she attributes to the mainstream music industry demanding a level of compromise that to her, just isn’t worth it.

“I still feel like I have to hustle,” she says carefully.

“How can I say this respectfully? There are things that I’m not willing to do that others in the industry are. I’m not saying that to take away from anyone. Mine may be the longer route, but I’m good with it. I like to be with the right people in the right place in the right time. I’m not just gonna dive in with whoever, just to say I’m a part of something. Do I have more hits in me? Absolutely! That’s a given.”

Aside from further collaborations with Sewell, long-time friend Shawn Desman, and other more secretive projects, Denny has been busy during quarantine showcasing some of her other talents. Most notably she’s hosting a series every Sunday on Instagram Live, where she interviews entertainers and artists, many of whom like herself, are both notable but underappreciated. It’s an outlet that she hopes will bring her closer to her fans, as she is admittedly quite a private person.

“I meet incredible people as I go through my career,” she says.

“I wanted to show the world, (there are) some people you know, and some people you may not know, but that you need to know because they are incredible artists. There’s a personal side to them, and you get to experience the essence of who they are. I see it as me opening myself up a little bit more, ‘cause I’m generally very closed off with that. I am a person who likes to be very private. Now this has turned into something where I get to connect with people. That’s not something I’m able to do usually, when I’m on the move as much as I have been. (I’m) taking some steps to open up myself and my personality to my fans and they can get to know me on another level.”

Last year Denny spent 10 months on the road, so she’s used most of her quarantine time to reconnect with her parents and her sister. The Instagram Live series has also had the pleasant side effect of allowing her to catch up with her industry friends who she normally only gets to see in passing backstage somewhere. But quarantine has also been accompanied by a deluge of news about racial injustice, and it’s caused Denny to reflect on her own experiences of being a recognizable woman of colour.

“When it all first kicked in I had quite a few of my white friends call and check on me and they’re like ‘Are you ok?’” she says, sounding slightly amused.

“I’m like, ‘I’m fine!’ (laughs) and then they’re like ‘Are you sure?’ I’m a woman of colour 24/7, 365. This is nothing new. I’m sure for many, when we’re in our tracks suits or our loungewear, you walk in a store and you still get looked at or followed. I’ve had it happen to me when people (then realize) who I am and it’s very disgusting. They come to up to me and they’re ‘Oh you’re… oh!’ That shouldn’t matter. I don’t want to experience what George Floyd or any of those people experienced. I don’t want my friends or anyone out there to have to experience that. I don’t wanna get too deep, but in the year that we’re in, in the world we’re living in, it’s absurd. We tend to feel that it doesn’t happen here. But I’m quickly learning that it does.”

Rebecca Northcott Photography

Denny says her next release will most likely be house music or dance-pop. Given the upbeat nature of those genres I had to ask if that’s something she can balance with this state of social negativity that we currently find ourselves in.

“I can definitely weave the two together,” she says excitedly.

“I’m by nature a very positive person, at least I try to be. Doesn’t mean I don’t have hard days! I think that if you stay in the negative, then that’s all that’s gonna keep coming at you. You must, someway, somehow, lift yourself out of it by choice. You have to choose to find the good in every situation. I feel a responsibility to continue to deliver that to people, to give them that release.”

Denny is musically adaptable, but regardless of what style she’s performing, she maintains a consistent image; that of the consummate professional artist. Her talent is what’s on display, while other aspects of her personality are usually kept away from the stage. As she said, it does make the journey longer, but if she was any different then the music would probably not be same. The blessing in disguise that’s come out of quarantine, is that Denny has found a way to show other sides of her personality in a way that suits her.

“I don’t like to follow things that other people are doing,” she says.

“That’s just me. I’ve never felt the need to display everything all the time. These other people who can do that, I’m in awe. That’s really gutsy! (laughs) I’m gutsy on other levels. They’ll see me on stage, and that’s good. That’s why I’m there, I’m there to sing. That’s probably why I don’t sing on Instagram. You guys already know I sing, so let me show you other capabilities that I have.”

Watch Simone Denny every Sunday at 5pm EST on her Instagram Live. This Sunday (October 18th) she’ll be speaking to Juno-winning R&B star Sean Jones.

You can also listen to Love Inc’s classic 1998 self-titled debut album on Spotify, and you can stream The Stereo Dynamite Sessions Vol. 1 in full below.