Photo by Per Heimly

For my money, it’s only in certain European nations where underground metal subgenres get any kind of mainstream recognition. I’m talking about the album charts, radio play, and award nominations. For many countries, these bands turn out to be their main cultural export. In Norwegian black metal, it would be difficult to argue that there’s a bigger band than Dimmu Borgir. Norway’s prosperous image has always been at odds with black metal’s international appeal, but it does seem that Dimmu gets more mainstream attention at home than any other extreme band in memory. But according to guitarist and founding member Silenoz, the attention is usually fleeting.

“The media in Norway, they care about you if you have a new release or if you have a show” he says.

“Then you don’t hear anything from them after that, so we’re still very far from becoming anything mainstream, and that’s something I’m proud of.”

Over the years Dimmu has courted controversy in different ways. In the early days it was due to the perceived malevolent content of the music, but now it’s trolling from metalhead elitists who don’t approve of the band’s popularity and newer symphonic style.

“I think we have always been a controversial band, and we still are” says Silenoz.

“That’s something else that makes me proud because that means we’re doing something right. We have the two polarities, either people hate us or they love us. That’s the perfect spot to be in, for me at least. But we don’t do that on purpose. It’s just a result of who we are and how we make our music. It’s an honest thing, and if you’re loved and hated for doing something that’s honest, then nothing is better than that.”

However, even before the pandemic, it wasn’t clear what the band was up to. So after I saw news of an upcoming album from Silenoz’s death metal side project Insidious Disease, I wanted to reach out and see how the shutdown has affected both of his bands, and also himself on a personal level. Luckily for him, he’s been able to spend most of the downtime with his son.

“He's been homeschooling, and so I’ve been trying to pretend I’m a teacher, which kind of reminds me how much I disliked school,” he says with a laugh, speaking from his home in the Norwegian countryside.

“But it’s good because you get to be closer, and he’s gonna turn 8 this year. He’s at a very specific age in his life where he’s getting formed and molded pretty easily. They say from 5-8 or around that time (children) grow into what they’re gonna be later in life. He reminds me a lot of myself at that age. He’s taking (the shutdown) pretty well I think. I’m sure he misses hanging out and playing a little bit, but he’s also very independent for being that young. He occupies himself and entertains himself. I’m really proud of him cause he seems to be a smart kid, smarter than I was at his age at least (laughs).”

Their property is an old farm that’s no longer in operation, and the house itself is quite special, as it’s in fact Silenoz’s childhood home. So he gets to raise his son in the same house he grew up in.

“This place (has been around) since before the Black Death” he says with a note of pride.

“So the farm I’m living on is actually from before 1350. It’s quite a special place I would say, I feel really at home here. The farmhouses are still there, there’s a lot of shit that’s tucked away. We could probably do 2 episodes of Hoarders (laughs). I work on music pretty much every day, or I write stuff. Trying to stay creative, focused, and healthy. I could never live in the city, I’ve never lived in the city. That’s not for me, I need some peace and quiet. The bad thing about coming home from a tour and living the countryside where everything’s quiet is, shit, your ears are ringing like motherfuckers!”

But even before concerts and album releases ground to a halt, it did feel as though the band was conspicuously absent from touring and press. Their most recent album, 2018’s Eonian, was their first in 8 years, and it arrived with much fanfare. But now 2 years after its release, there didn’t seem to be much noise from the Dimmu camp.

“Since the album came out up until April of this year we’ve done close to 70 shows, which is not really a lot when you consider the stretch (of time),” he says.

“From the outside it looks like we haven’t done that much, and I guess we haven’t. We’re a touring band, but we’ve never been a heavily-touring band, at least not in the last decade. We’re trying not to play just to play. We wanna obviously take it to the next level, and you gotta try and be smart about it. There’s so (many) expenses in what we do, just to put on one show.”

I admitted surprise that a band who is usually a guaranteed draw would have this kind of difficulty doing what they’d done so many times before. I wanted to know if perhaps the long wait between albums was a part of the problem.

“Over the years, since we haven’t played as much as other bands on the same level, we have made ourselves kind of exclusive in that sense,” he says.

“Once we do put on a tour, it (has) really good attendance. That’s the upside of it. But let’s say if we were going to put on a run in the U.S, the thing with how it’s become so strict with visas, you don’t really even know if you’re going to get it on time. To have so much at stake, there’s so much money involved. There’s still a chance to take because how the climate has evolved over the last few years, even the last 2-3 years before we released the latest album, so many changes.”

Silenoz (second from right) with Dimmu Borgir - Photo by Per Heimly

So to me that then begs the question of whether it’s manageable to keep a band on Dimmu’s level profitable, as their status as a legacy act with high production values has seemingly made it far more difficult for them to tour in the West. One thing I’ve noticed about Silenoz is that he often greets difficultly with a perhaps, casual optimism. It’s not a happy-no-matter-what kind of thing, more of a shrug of the shoulder “well, at least” kind of thing. As a Canadian I relate to this.

“I think it’s still manageable for sure!” he says enthusiastically.

“It’s just trying to find the right timing, and we had 2 or 3 tours lined up for North America, but routing and availability and all these factors (came up) that people don’t take into consideration. So that was put on hold, and of course with everything now it’s going to be more challenging later on. The main income (for bands) is to play live, doesn’t matter what level you’re at. That means a lot of competition (for) routing for North America. I hope we can manage to do a proper North American tour, at least for this album, once things are a bit more quiet. I think once things are a little back to normal, people are going to wanna go to shows again. There’s gonna be a positive outcome of the situation. I think not this year, but next year, there’s gonna be a boom in that area. It’s a delicate situation for anyone that is an artist. Whether it’s a musician, or actor, or painter, or journalist. The positive thing that I see, I feel that the album is pretty fresh from my perspective.”

Eonian continues the band’s modern emphasis on symphonic elements, but has many nods to their early releases in terms of vocals and riffs. The album also features the same keyboards that were used on their landmark 90s releases. However I doubt that these elements will do anything to convert anyone who only enjoys those older tunes. It’s one of the 2 time periods in Dimmu’s existence that have been highly romanticized by fans. But unlike certain other black metal bands who continue to bank on edgelord activities from their teen years, Dimmu keeps evolving in the right direction.

“Teens have this default rebellion, you can compare (the 90s Norwegian black metal scene) to how the punk scene was in the 70s” says Silenoz.

“It would be kind of weird if we wouldn’t move on mentally, spiritually, musically, and artistically. The early days of the band, the early albums has its charm I would say. There’s nothing that I personally regret about any of those albums because those were a stepping stone to now. I’m really proud of the fact that we have evolved in the right direction, at least from where we stand. We’ve never been a band that focuses on the depressive parts of the black metal thing anyway. I feel that as time has passed by, we have become more of an empowering type of unit.”

The other period that is often held up as essential by fans is the lineup that existed roughly from 2001-2009. Band founders Silenoz and vocalist Shagrath, were joined by guitarist Galder (Old Man’s Child), bassist ICS Vortex (Borknagar, Arcturus), keyboardist Mustis (Susperia), and drummers Nicholas Barker (Cradle of Filth, Lock Up, was fired from Dimmu in early 2004) and Hellhammer (Mayhem). It was basically an extreme metal supergroup. 2003’s Death Cult Armageddon landed the band on the U.S. Ozzfest tour, and had two songs featured in the trailer for the original Hellboy movie. Then 2007’s In Sorte Diaboli became the first black metal album to chart Number 1 in Norway. The end of this lineup was punctuated by the very public departure of Mustis and Vortex, but it remains perhaps the most noted time in the band’s existence.

“I think Death Cult has sold, I’m not gonna say a specific number, but I think around 150,000 copies in North America, and doing Ozzfest in 2004 was really helpful with getting the band on the map outside this so-called underground scene” says Silenoz

“That’s the album that has the proper stronghold there by a longshot. That was maybe one of the peaks for the band as well, especially when it came to personalities in the band. That was obviously, the cause of a few clashes (laughs), as everybody knows now! It is how it is, to be in a band, to be in a group. You get to know each other over a longer period of time, and you get to really know each other once you’ve been touring for a long time too. It's one thing to see each other as rehearsal, make songs together, and you go back to your home. But on tour there’s nowhere to go. If you’re on tour 2 months straight, then you have a week (at a time) at home, that’s what’s gonna make or break a lot of people. That doesn’t mean people are bad or anything, it just means that you’re bound to butt heads sooner or later.”

A song from this period that I’ve often wondered about is the ultra-symphonic “Progenies of the Great Apocalypse” from Death Cult Armageddon, which is still perhaps their most popular track. The music is credited as written entirely by Mustis in the liner notes. The rest of the album seems quite collaborative, so I wanted to know a bit more about how this black metal classic came together.

“It's a proper Dimmu song,” says Silenoz.

“Mustis obviously had a lot to do with it musically. For us, Mustis has never been a songwriter, but has always been good at coming up with musical pieces, ideas, and themes that the rest of us put together in a song. It would be fair to say that he came up with most of the musical ideas for that song, but he’s not the type of musician that is able to put things together in that sense. Everything this band has done over the years has been a group effort. I’m not gonna take anything away from the older members, all of them have put their touch to how we sounded at the time. In some places, some get more credit than others, and then it’s turned around on a different song, on a different album. Every band has their own way of spreading publishing and royalties. It's hard to go into specifics, because the way we do our publishing is obviously our way of doing things (and is) not in the public eye.”

Silenoz’s next project is the second album from his death metal supergroup side outfit Insidious Disease, most notably featuring Napalm Death bassist Shane Embury, called After Death. To me it seems incredibly difficult to have to begin to promote a new album during an industry shutdown, but it turns out that the release date has already been pushed back.

Silenoz (left) with Insidious Disease vocalist Marc Grewe - Photo Courtesy of Nuclear Blast

“This is the second album now, 10 years since the debut, so we had to wait until the pandemic hit to take advantage of it!” says Silenoz laughing.

“It’s gonna be out later this year. We actually had a release date for it but since everything that’s happened, everything has been put on hold from the label’s side, all their releases actually. It feels really good to get this thing off our chest. It’s been sitting on the shelf for a couple years actually. Some of the songs on this album are from 2011-2013.”

I was lucky enough to see Insidious Disease perform at Wacken 2009, and it seemed obvious to me from that night that Silenoz enjoys playing classic-style death metal in a way that he can’t with Dimmu’s bombastic black metal. Dimmu is theatrical, while Insidious is relaxed and groovy.

“It’s a total different approach than with Dimmu, because especially over the last 2 decades (Dimmu) has got a lot more analytical, and there’s this certain way of approaching songwriting “ he says happily.

“Insidious, it’s very much spontaneous. We like to finish songs quicker. We like to let the groove show the way and we try not to think too technical. Insidious is supposed to be something, you know, not reinventing the wheel. It’s pretty much an homage to the old bands. It’s our take on it with a modern twist.”

The difference artistically between Dimmu Borgir and Insidious Disease paints a perfect portrait of who I think Silenoz is as a person. He can wax on about esoteric and metaphysical concepts, but he stays grounded with a dry, friendly sense of humour. He loves isolation but he is certainly not an elitist, and is very easy to speak to. So before I left him for the evening I wanted to know if he had any thoughts on the strange times that we find ourselves in. His answer made me wonder if he likes his new role as a teacher more than he realizes.

“I think it’s important to trust your gut feeling” he says.

“That’s what I’ve learned the hard way, (that) I should always trust my gut feeling, my intuition. There’s obviously ways of developing that as well. If you have a good feeling about (something), then look into (it). It’s important to keep an open mind about everything, and that’s how you acquire knowledge over a period of time. That’s something that you can use to your benefit, and the benefit of the people around you.”

You can stream Dimmu Borgir's Eonian in full, as well as the first single from Insidious Disease's After Death, "Enforcers of the Plague," below.


You're Not Alone

The music of Andrew W.K. has always been a vehicle for his unabashed message of positivity by partying. But the message has always been separate from the music, communicated through his stage banter and body language at shows. His most recent album, You’re Not Alone, took a sharp turn away from that separation. It’s a collection of what can only be described as ultra-anthemic odes to positive partying and overcoming adversity, interspersed by emotionally-driven spoken-word testimonials. Speaking via phone while on tour, I asked Andrew W.K. what prompted this more direct approach to his music and message.

“There was, and remains, frustration. Frustration is very inspiring to me, even though it’s a painful experience it’s very motivating,” he says in a calm, firm tone.

“I was really determined, almost violently so, to try and get through to other people, or myself, or get through to life! Dealing with feelings that are not very straightforward by their nature, (you) create a powerful physical force that can’t be denied, the physical encounter with the statement (is) undeniable. Even if someone didn’t like it, they would not be able to deny the force.”

Over the years Andrew has become known in-part as a motivational speaker. It’s something that also comes across live, especially during his “solo” tours where he performs usually with just instrumental tracks and one band member yelling backup vocals. In many cases those shows in a small club can be far more intense than his full band sets in front of thousands. The gaps left by the band are filled by Andrew’s huge personality and philosophical nature. So it does seem natural that the music he creates would reflect this.

“It's something that happened gradually, I think primarily prompted by people asking me questions about life, and me being interested in those same questions,” he says.

“Some of the frustrations that I have experienced with either being misunderstood, or just not being satisfied by the impact or the reach of the vision… I’ve tried to explain myself and explain this work, the nature of this mission that I’m on. Through all that explaining and all that questioning and all that answering, just more and more layers were stripped away. I was sometimes hesitant to talk about these things, but I related to them so deeply and was able to speak about them so personally. This puzzle called being a human, it was very easy to dive into for me. There’s a deeper compulsion that is kind of driving this, and I try to listen to it and stay very loyal to that instinct. Even if I have my own doubts, and I have many of them. I have a lot of second-guessing about all kinds of stuff that I’ve done. But beneath those doubts and beneath that second-guessing there is a clarity, and I try to work from that place.”

With his concern over his message being misunderstood, I asked Andrew if he has any issues with his music and image just being enjoyed in a base level, party anthem kind of way, and if it would make a difference to him if the more emotional messages weren’t perceived by a listener.

“I’ve always really liked that this could be received and understood in many different ways, and that all of them were valid,” he says after some thought.

“It’s when it’s misunderstood… there’s many ways to understand it properly, and it is about partying. It is about those base feelings, and in fact you can’t really have a shallow without a deep and vice versa. So someone experiencing this in a way that could be seen as shallow, or base, or low is what gives it the foundation to have a higher place or a deeper meaning. For me it’s really important to have all of those things. I wrestled with that much, much earlier in life as a teenager. I thought things had to be one way or the other. Then I realized they could be both, and perhaps everything was both, and that some of the things that made an experience rich, seemed to counteract its’ richness. It provides contrast and dynamics and range, a wider space to work in.”

Even for someone who gives themselves fully to their work like Andrew W.K, You’re Not Alone sees him somehow investing even more emotionally than ever before. Although Andrew is an extremely supportive artist to his fans, he’s not impervious to everything, and since he takes on so many peoples’ problems, I hoped that he has people who can offer him the same support.

“I’ve been spoiled with the amount of support that I’ve been given,” he says happily.

“That’s not only what enables me to do this work, it’s makes the spirit of the work come through. All the people around me help it exist, help me do what I can. That’s just happened over this last year. I was always very aware of how awesome this team was that I get to be a part of. I’ve always felt that the team was a means to an end, and that I was a means to an end, and that we were working together for something. It never occurred to me that the team itself is almost the highest result of the effort. When you look at sports, you see this team of athletes trying to win a championship. After even a short time together, they can look back and realize that it wasn’t the trophy, it was the hoisting of the trophy with (their teammates) that was the most meaningful moment. It’s similar to ‘the journey is the destination,’ but it’s not the journey either, it’s the people you’re on the journey with that are the prize, they are the pay off. That’s what really came through with clarity now, I was able to see it while it was happening, and not just after the fact looking back having fond memories. I was able to realize that this was a huge breakthrough for me. It took me almost 40 years to realize that it’s the relationships you have with the people around you that are the highest mode of being that you get to experience in this life.”

On paper it can be easy to dismiss some of Andrew’s ideas as cliché, but I believe that’s because most of the time people who express these kind of ideas don’t come across as genuine. Andrew W.K. has given his mind and body to prove to people who will listen that he means what he says. It’s a frustration that he refers to a few times in our conversation. Turning a positive into a negative is not a new concept, but it’s one that I think most people take far too literally. Being positive in the face of adversity doesn’t mean that you don’t allow yourself to feel anger or sadness. It’s this kind of understanding that for me sets Andrew apart as an artist, and makes his message seem like one worth getting out there.

“I think the frustration is really just a feeling of there’s really so much to do, and feeling almost overwhelmed in the best way by all the tasks we’ve yet to complete and all the places we’ve yet to go,” he says.

“At its worst it feels completely debilitating. But it’s so fiery, it’s not a melancholic feeling. It’s a very forceful, rage kind of feeling which is very powerful fuel. Maybe (it’s also) a panic that there’s not enough time or energy or possibility to get to that place. Feeling like I’ve let myself down, that I’ve let this mission down. That we have to do better, or that I have to do better, or do more. It’s difficult for me to even understand what frustration is. It’s just being human and realizing the limits of one’s self.”

Andrew W.K. is currently working on a new album. Stream You're Note Alone in full below.

Photo by Augie Arredondo

Our story so far: Tristan Shone is an American mechanical engineer who records and tours as one-man-band Author & Punisher. He’s known for his intense brand of (what has been labelled as) industrial metal, and self-built instruments that resemble something you might see if a Terminator and Tetsuo had a baby.

His latest album, and first for Relapse Records, is last year’s Beastland, and he returns to Toronto this Monday, July 29th at Velvet Underground, serving as direct support for rising industrial stars 3teeth.

Listening to an Author & Punisher album can be a unique experience, as there’s no context for the sounds being produced. So it’s a kind of aural leap of faith. On his last visit to the city I sat down with Shone in a quiet bakery cafe to talk about the new album, and how people are connecting to his music.

“I think I do a really good job of making people see emotion, and hear something,” he says earnestly.

“It’s not fake, I’m controlling that sound. The pitch-controller and the knobs in my left hand, they’re stacked vertically so you can actually see what I’m playing. When I first built them they were just on a table, on a rack-mount. I saw videos and I was like ‘Ugh you can’t see what I’m playing!’”

This new visual connection to his live audience has come about in part due to Shone re-thinking how he travels with his setup, which used to surround him like a high-tech fortress. But the rigours of touring took hold, and now the Author & Punisher show fits neatly in 3 cases, each weighing fifty pounds.

“Some of the other stuff that I built that was more sculptural was a little harder to… it was really fucking heavy!” Shone says laughing.

“If I wanted something to be really heavy, (to) have a certain feel, I made it heavy, I made it big. Now I can’t make things as heavy as I want, so I have to design around different restrictions. It’s a kind of fun engineering problem to basically say ‘I want something that feels good in my hand, that slides back and forth, but it has to be a little more compact and not have that extra little bit.’ I’m probably going to do two albums with this setup. (Beastland) is the first one.”

Shone has always had eclectic lyrical inspirations, and the new album is no different, as it addresses societal issues that also connect to deeper, more personal experiences.

“I knew the name of the album was going to be Beastland because I wrote (that song) a long time ago” he says.

“I don’t consider it to be the title track because it’s not the signature song of the album. At that point I said ‘Ok so let’s think of different beasts,’ and with this whole Trump thing and the rise of nationalism I was thinking of different modern beasts that we could view. There’s a song called ‘Pharmacide’ which is about the pharmaceutical industry… we’ve all had friends that have fallen to ill-fate on that topic. Another topic I explored was nationalistic European figures, and then there’s more personal demons and things like that. Initially I was going to make 8 beasts and I kinda got a little hazy.”

Something that’s always been curiously amusing is how Shone has found his place in heavy metal culture. After all he’s technically an electronic musician, and while darkwave music may have found a place alongside metal, Author & Punisher’s music has far more in common with visceral 90s industrial bands, but it also wouldn’t be out of place with the avant-garde output of the early pioneers of the genre.

Shone has always been outwardly grateful for the support from his metal audience. There have been moments where Author & Punisher seemed to stick out on a certain bills, but that's perhaps more so due to the nature of being a touring solo act in the middle of a bunch of bands. It’s something that he now embraces more than ever.

“If I was still playing in bands… I wouldn’t be playing in a pop band, I’d be playing in a metal band” he says.

“I think maybe that was something that I was a little more concerned about in the past, but I don’t really care anymore. You’re lucky at this point as a musician to exist anywhere in the music world. To be able to do it as long as I have, and have kind of a slow crescendo of… I don’t know… a crowd, a fanbase, or something. I’m happy about (how) it’s never blown up but it hasn’t really had a downturn. It just comes out naturally. You know, it’s the films that I watch. I’m no different than any other metal guy honestly.”

Beastland is available now on Relapse Records, and you can stream the album in full here. You can find out more about the show with 3teeth here, and you can get a good look at Shone's setup in the video for “Nihil Strength” below.

Photo Courtesy of Red Music

From The Zombitrol Vaults here’s an audition interview with vocalist Cristina Scabbia of Italy’s Lacuna Coil, where we delve into their latest, and surprisingly aggressive album, Delirium. Have a listen via SoundCloud below.


Lacuna Coil's latest release is The 119 Show - Live In London. You can watch the live video for “Nothing Stands In Our Way” below.