Fenriz (of Darkthrone) Goes Postal
The living black metal legend discusses his life in the Norwegian postal system and the uncertain status of Darkthrone’s next album
Even though I accidentally call an hour early, Fenriz is exceedingly cool when I interrupt his dinner. Darkthrone’s drummer and co-vocalist/lyricist has already put in a shift at the postal warehouse—he’s worked in the Norwegian postal industry for 26 years now—and he’s heading out to play soccer tonight. But right now he’s eating something gross out of a can. “I don’t really know what the English translation would be,” he says when we ask what it is. “It’s a Norwegian mixture of flesh and pork and some other things.”
Fenriz got married last year and recently moved back to Kolbotn, the Oslo suburb where he and Darkthrone guitarist/co-vocalist Ted “Nocturno Culto” Skjellum joined forces in 1988 and cranked out death metal demos before making their official debut with 1991’s Soulside Journey. Upon switching to black metal, they became underground legends with the classic corpsepaint trilogy of A Blaze In The Northern Sky (1992), Under A Funeral Moon (1993) and Transilvanian Hunger (1994). These days, Darkthrone’s music veers more toward punk and traditional heavy metal—as evidenced by their most recent masterpiece, The Underground Resistance. But you probably know all that. What you probably don’t know is that Darkthrone just might be gearing down for a hiatus while they figure out where to go next…
NOISEY: When I emailed you to set up this interview, you mentioned you were just starting a new job at work. What are you doing?
FENRIZ: Well, there’s tons of jobs in the postal industry, dude. People always get it wrong and think I’m like a mailman, but I’m not. I work in the postal industry, with mail sorting machines and whatnot. Now I sort mail that is like return-to-sender and like the exceptions that cement the rule. There’s a lot of exceptions in the return-to-sender system, I shit you not.
You’ve been working in the postal industry for a long time.
I’ve been doing Darkthrone since ’87 and this job since ’88, but I’ve changed jobs within the postal industry many times, as well as where I work. Now I’ve got a pretty cool shift, one week on Monday and Tuesday, and the rest of the week off. But then I have to do email and all the administrative things for Darkthrone. And last but not least, the books. I do the bookkeeping for the merchandise. In ’87, it was about 70 percent playing and 30 percent mail. [Laughs] And now I could actually not play at all anymore and just do the administrative stuff until I die, I guess.
But you don’t do your own fulfillment, right? When someone orders a Darkthrone shirt from the band, it’s not you packing it up?
No, no. That would be nuts. That would be so much work for just getting a few bucks more. We have had no control over merchandise since 1991. We saw it snowballing, and there was no stopping it—we knew there would be caps and long-sleeve stupid shit. So we just had to let that go at the time. We had no interest in trying to deal more with that. It was just okaying some designs. Over here, everything is just bootlegged by Italian mob guys and the Chinese and the Eastern European countries. They make the merch and sell it and we don’t get anything. We could send lawyers over to find out what’s going on, but it wouldn’t be worth it. It’s almost like a catch-22 there. So yeah, we made like two shirts ourselves in the beginning—like ’88 and ’89 or something—and the rest was taken care of by the label. Now there’s a separate company that does the merch, but we are not involved. So we have some small income sources there, but I obviously still have a job.
Civil servants here in the US can retire after 20 years. Is that how it works in Norway?
[Laughs] You mean like the cops? It’s not that drastic for us, because we’re not laying our lives on the line.
Neither are the postal workers here.
Well, I believe the expression “going postal” originated in America.
Fenriz, during the interview. Seriously
[Laughs] That’s true. But I don’t think that’s happened in a while.
It hasn’t. [Laughs] But it happened enough that it’s a household term, even over here. You know, I’m always making compilations and podcasts, but I never got so far as to make one called “Fenriz Goes Postal.” Even though that would be the most logical compilation name ever, I still didn’t do it. I’ve had it in the pipeline for ten years now, though. But to answer your question, we don’t have the early retirement. I’m just sort of stepping down slowly. I haven’t worked full time in ten years. I went down to 32 hours a week and then 28 and now it’s like 26.25 hours a week. [Laughs]
And you can still pay your bills?
Oh yeah, that’s fine. I’m just saving money for a retired future. It’s not normal to quit this job early. There are plenty of 60 and 70 year olds, women and men, working there. Probably I think it’s healthier to work a little, maybe just once a week, until you’re like 70—instead of working like a maniac until you’re 52 and then just quit it all and hook up with some nice resort. What’s that resort called in Dirty Dancing? Six Flags? [Laughs]
So you’re not ready to retire anytime soon?
I got really fed up with my previous job, but now my job is better. It’s hard, but the days go really fast and I can just listen to music the whole time. I definitely see myself stepping down more and more, but I like saving up money. I didn’t do that in the ’90s, when I still worked full time. And I had a tax problem because I didn’t think they would check that my account was filling up with some obscure money from England [for Darkthrone records and merchandise]… until they actually did that. [Laughs] So it was hell to pay for a couple of years, in 2001 and 2002. I was pretty barren. But then I found out that all the Darkthrone checks I was getting was being deducted 20 percent before I even got them. I just found this out recently, so I was losing heaps of money, and so was Ted, because we were paying full taxes on only 80 percent of the money, something like 60 percent tax. So finally we find out that you can actually get that other 20 percent back from Norway. I think it probably evened out from all the years we didn’t pay taxes, so I don’t feel bad about it. I think we landed sunny side up.
You recently moved back to Kolbotn, where Darkthrone is from.
Yes. I stopped going out a few years ago, and when I did that I ended up saving about 120,000 Kroner a year, which is about… oh, 22,000 bucks. As soon as I did that, I quickly had enough money to enter the housing market, where I bought and sold a few times and made some money and then moved back to Kolbotn. But I never lived more than eight or twelve kilometers from here my whole life. Finally, I can visit friends from the metal scene and walk home after—or stagger, more like it. [Laughs]
What’s the current status of the new Darkthrone album?
The label always has some sort of long-term plan for us, but we don’t really make plans. When we got stuff, we got it; when we don’t, we don’t. Back in January, I called Ted and said, “I’ve got some shit—let’s go into the studio now!” But he couldn’t do it. So I scrapped my song and now I’m just waiting. But we did the whole book thing—the book that we did with the [Black, Death and Beyond] box set. But the way I saw it and the way the author saw it, it would be a regular book. But the bosses over at Peaceville initially said, “But we don’t really release books—we release albums!” [Laughs] Yeah, sure. But there must be some way, you know? So it’s a 72-page book that came with the box set, but if you take the time to read it, it takes as long as a regular book. And there’s more material. So if we do a regular book, we’ll elaborate. But I don’t know what’s going on with that.
Wait—because Ted wasn’t ready to record, you just scrapped your song?
Yeah, I’ve got several. They’re on the computer or on the mp3 player. They’re just skeletons, but that’s how we always work. We meet up with the skeletons, and we add the flesh and bones really immediately and then record immediately. But it works the other way around as well—Ted will be ready to record and I’ll say, “Not now, dude.” Since 1998, when we started up the engines again for real, there’s been so many albums. There was a long stretch. So I think we’re sitting pretty right now having a hiatus. But how long is this hiatus gonna be? I don’t know. Right now, Ted seems to be moving, maybe to Oslo, and then we have to get a rehearsal place. But we don’t rehearse, you know? [Laughs] So right now, we’re not that hungry. I’m pretty pleased with the last album as well.
You should be. Do you have a different perspective on The Underground Resistance now that it’s been out for nearly two years?
I had to listen to it at least 20 times before doing all the interviews before and right after the album’s release. This time, it was a record load of interviews to do, and I got really tired of it, of course. It was like 104 interviews, and I’d rather do maybe 60. It takes a lot of time. When the album is done, Ted’s work is done, but my job continues for a long time. He’s always said, “You don’t have to do any interviews.” But I’ve always done the interviews! So there’s a disproportional thing going on there.
Why don’t you just tell him that he has to do some next time?
Because I am always doing interviews. It’s like my second nature. But you’ve got me doing an interview here when I’m on total hiatus. I’m doing gardening and all that, trying to keep the lawn perfect, doing all the plants and whatnot. We got our hands full. And then the firewood! [Laughs]
Chopping firewood is good exercise…
It’s just another chore. But I really like learning how to live and not just being like a metal maniac bar star, which I was from ’91 to 2003. It takes a long time to get out of that and start living the good life, man.
Not long after you stopped frequenting the bars, it seemed like you and Ted started having a lot more fun making music. There was a palpable sense of humor that seeped into the music on 2006’s The Cult Is Alive and continues through The Underground Resistance.
I understand your train of thought with that, but we’ve always been kind of tense about our material. I don’t know how much fun we had. I really don’t know. I’m thrilled that we can spur the imagination that way, but even with The Cult Is Alive, I’m not sure how much fun was going on. We’d meet up, record our songs, finish up our beers, and then I’d go home the next day. Ted wouldn’t play them back before I left, so I’d be waiting two or three weeks for him to mix it, and I’d be anxious the whole time. And then we’d have the discussion about the levels and all that. So there’s always been a lot of anxiety around our material and what the end result will be.
Is that what’s happening now?
I don’t think we’re feeling extremely confident… but then I’m thinking when bands get over-confident, they get boring. [Laughs] So I have no idea what will come out on the next record. I know what the songs I’ve scrapped sound like, but I don’t really know what I want right now. I’m thinking pretty much daily, “What riffs will I make now?” And that’s as exciting as hell. But it’s also making me jumpy and nervous because I have no sense of direction. And I have no clue what Ted is gonna come up with. But if you look at our catalog, it’s probably not gonna be an apple that falls too far from the tree.
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