Wanna know something sad? I know exactly what it takes to make Metal Blast a very successful magazine… or, at the very least, I know what I need to do to make our interviews and articles go viral.
I have to lie.
Really, all I need to do is to just make shit up as I go, take things out of context, pretend that things were different that they actually were, and just sit back and watch our visitor count go higher and higher.
I met with Kristian “Gaahl” Eivind Espedal at a bar in Bergen. It was a chill upper-crust organic wine bar with soft saxophone music playing in the background; I could tell you it was a dark S&M dungeon. He was polite and kind from the very beginning, although I could tell you that he was scary, violent and intimidating. I could tell you that I felt that he came on to me or that I was intimidated by his presence, things that cannot be disproven, as they’re simply part of my own perception. I could, but none of those things would be the truth. And, let’s face it, there’s already enough sensationalist and untruthful coverage of this man to go around.
Call me stupid (and there’s definitely some stupidity responsible for this) but I don’t want to profit or to make us popular by lying. We began Metal Blast with a desire to bring serious journalism to a field in which honesty and seriousness are hard to find… and, for whatever it’s worth, we’re sticking to that ideal.
If we deny anyone an opinion, we cannot grow.
Metal Blast: When I scheduled the interview I went out of my way to express that we were not trying to do something sensationalist, which is what I have noticed in your interviews. They tend to be very biased trying to make black metal in general, and you in particular, look as ridiculous or “evil” as possible. What do you think is the biggest misconception that is perpetuated through this type of coverage?
Gaahl: I don’t know, since I haven’t followed it. When I went through the footage of the Vice documentary, because they wanted to know what I thought, of course there were things I reacted against, but the main elements that are mistakenly explained are what they themselves are talking about. That’s where things mostly go wrong, because they have a bad memory and mix up stories. A lot of the subjects that they mixed up were based on true stories, but they were blending several stories into one. I think that it’s just because they’re not used to using their memory as a source, but rather recordings or texts.
MB: I talked with Sakis Tolis, singer of Rotting Christ, during their tour with God Seed and Cradle of Filth, and he mentioned how you were a very nice person to tour with, despite the “evil” image that has been painted about you. Does this image bother you at all?
G: No; I can’t work around other people’s perceptions. In the end, if people have some sort of intellect they will see through and understand that things are very much tainted by the media itself and how it wants to portray them through misunderstandings and misconceptions. People often narrow down a subject by their own ability to be themselves, so I’ve never seen this as a problem; If people jump to conclusions it’s because they are in that narrow space themselves.
It doesn’t bother me if they don’t understand me or if they paint me in their own image, that’s how people are. I always think that people have the same understanding and knowledge than me but, of course, this is not always true, but I always speak to them as if they did. [Laughs] I never think that people have a different idea about me when I communicate with them but, of course, this is the wrong way to look at things, but it’s something I do unconsciously.
MB: If I’m not mistaken, you identify yourself as a pagan, what some call Asatru…
G: If one needs to put a name on it, that’s probably where most people would place me.
MB: At the same time, however, there is this constant reference in (what used to be) Gorgoroth, God Seed, and in black metal in general, to the Judeo-Christian image of Satan. In “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey” you also said that Satan was the inspiration behind Gorgoroth. So is it a metaphorical use of “Satan” or is there, despite the paganism, a connection with this Judeo-Christian entity?
G: It has more of a symbolic value to it but, then again, with Gorgoroth the intention was very clearly and outspokenly against the Judeo-Christian world. So, in that concept, Satan, being the resistant, the adversary, the one who speaks up against God, is correct, as well as in that interview regarding where the inspiration for Gorgoroth lies.
The opponents to what Gorgoroth represented were, of course, Christianity and monotheism. I don’t think I will ever be able to lay down the sword against this; there will always be some sort of reflection against this in everything I do; it’s so appalling to me that every fiber in my body is fighting against it. However, in God Seed I bring the lyrical content more into the old pagan realm; there’s no Satan in the God Seed lyrics and, for that matter, very little in the last Gorgoroth albums as well. I did keep clear references in “Forces of Satan Storms” [from 2003’s Twilight of the Gods] and “Untamed Forces” [from 2006’s Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam], but that was mostly because I wanted to link the albums with the history of Gorgoroth as a band. Other than that, the lyrics are rarely touching upon the same lyrical concepts that we had in and before [2000’s] “Incipit Satan”.
MB: When it comes to the lyrical content of Gorgoroth, something that was always very interesting was the refusal to publish the lyrics, to keep them secret. So, on the one hand, Gorgoroth had a deep philosophical meaning for the band, but, on the other, there was this refusal to share this philosophy and these reflections with the audience. Why was that? Wouldn’t the idea be to actually be able to “convert”, for lack of a better word, as many as possible?
G: The idea of “leading” goes against what I want to do. I don’t want people to follow at all; I want people to be able to figure out things for themselves. Also, the lyrics are very symbolic, so they could be understood in many shapes and forms, even if I printed them.
The attention and the energy that you leave with when something has been told only to you as a listener…If you are spoon-fed everything, then it loses quite a bit of its magic. It’s about the listener’s ability to connect to the material, which doesn’t happen if you have the lyrics and don’t have to pay attention; this way you have to try to find out what’s being told. I think that this way it’s more of a secret energy.
I like the idea of whispering, even when I’m screaming, because it demands attention in a different way.
MB: You’re probably familiar with the band Watain, from Sweden.
G: Only by name, I’ve never listened to their music. [laughs]
MB: I was talking with Erik, singer of Watain, who’s a theistic Satanist, believes in the “left hand path”, etc. When I asked him what materials his listeners should check in order to connect with his ideology, he said that this is something made for the elite, so that those who can understand it will, and those who can’t, won’t and shouldn’t understand it. By not putting the lyrics out, by not letting them follow you, do you mean that only those who “should” understand, will?
G: People have to discover themselves. When I write, first and foremost, I write for myself, and if it gives meaning and awakes something in someone, and someone can connect to it, that’s good, but I’m not there to say if they understand correctly or not. It should be personal to them, they don’t need to connect to me.
In a way I think that maybe it’s the same thing that he said, but with different words. We are probably saying a lot of the same, even if in a different way.
MB: In an interview that I had with Morgan Steinmeyer, from the band Marduk, on the topic of black metal, he mentioned that real black metal music is not defined by its sound but by its content. So, something can only be called black metal if it deals with the idea of Satanism, the Adversary, etc. while something like Immortal, dealing with dragons, winter, mountains, etc., would not, and should not, be seen as black metal. What’s your take on this?
G: I understand the concept of black metal. You can call it “Satanic black metal” if it deals with that energy, but black metal has become a term that has grown out of its normal proportions. I don’t consider God Seed a black metal band in that sense. I don’t consider Trelldom a black metal band; I never considered it a black metal band in general, but you don’t choose where your music is placed; it’s placed there mostly because of the fans and the listeners and what they connect it to. The name given to a music style or genre only has a value to keep things in order in a CD shelf, so that it can be easy to pick out the right form of energy.
I do believe that when black metal started the idea behind it was quite strict, but within a few years it grew out of that. The original idea of black metal was like Morgan said, but it’s never been only within those boundaries, because things are not run that way, and people will place something related with the energy into the same genre. What is black metal today? People even refer to “death metal” as “black metal” now, so you can never put a lock on the genre.
MB: So obviously for you it’s not important how your music ends up being called.
G: Of course not; for me it’s just music, it’s an art form.
MB: I ask this because in the early days of Norwegian black metal it was actually important, it was about making this music as inaccessible as possible.
G: Exactly; it was no compromise, but that’s the language of the youth. I like that energy, but it is not controlled; we didn’t have the ability to control it then and we still don’t have it.
Personally, I don’t care about labels in that sense. When I was younger I did, I had my roots and strict ideas about the energies that they focused on, but it’s something that changed.
MB: Back then there was this desire to be inaccessible, to make sure this wasn’t a music “for everyone”. Was this desire also part of your ideas?
G: When I started with Trelldom I only focused on the music, the content and the concept. We had a common energy that we presented but I didn’t want to release it, I only wanted to have it for us to keep it to ourselves. Then a lot of nagging from, especially, Metallion [founder of Norwegian metal magazine Slayer] [laughs] saying “you have to record it”. Then I split up the band, but I thought that maybe it was a bit sad that it would only be kept as a memory, so I called Tyrant, the guitarist, and told him that Head Not Found records wanted us to record it. One month later I fired him from the band; we went into the studio, found a drummer that had never played with us before, and recorded our first album [1995’s Til Evighet].
What we released was a rough mix… I’ve made a proper version of it, but I’ve kept that for myself and close friends. It’s a pity, because it’s way better than what we released. [laughs]
MB: Well, there’s always the difference between what your own creations mean to you and what they mean to other people.
G: It becomes something else as soon as you release it. You can’t control the relationship your music has with others once you release it. It’s the same if you show a painting to anyone, you release the concept of understanding it to someone who might have a completely different energy source for it.
MB: In light of these newer interpretations that people can give to one’s work, many musicians, particularly in this type of genre, say that although they appreciate the monetary benefits, they crave for the underground times in which the music belonged to them and only them. Do you share that?
G: “I’m the only one that’s allowed to listen to this band” gives you something that is almost not shared with anyone else. They think that this allows you to become special, that it’s for them and them only.
The idea of the music, no matter how big the artist is, if it connects to you, that feeling is special enough, even if it’s Michael Jackson. If people have a connection, the connection they get is not necessarily shared with anyone else, it doesn’t need to be shared, the energy that this music gives to you, that’s yours alone. That doesn’t need to be kept in a box and made private, because the energy that you get out of the music is your own sacred realm, no matter what.
MB: In that sense, metal fans in general, and black metal fans in particular, are quite insufferable when it comes having something “in a box”, something that is “only theirs”; because of this, every new thing you do and every increase in popularity will be a sign that you sold out or that you are no longer “true”. Do you, at some point, just choose not to care?
G: I’ve never cared about that because, first and foremost, I create for myself. If people enjoy it, then by all means enjoy it. If someone gets something out of the energy that you present and deliver, they might conceive it in a completely different way than I intended, but it’s a pleasure to bring it to them. Why should it bother me?
MB: You had some problems with censorship in Poland, after the Black Mass Krakow concert; Nergal experienced something similar in Poland; Marduk in Belarus; Varg Vikernes might go to jail in France for hate speech… When it comes to censorship, metal is often a target. Do you think that we should allow all speech or that we should establish some limitations, keeping in mind that you could be protecting homophobic or racist speech?
G: No, you should be able to say whatever you want, it’s the only way to evolve. If we deny anyone an opinion, we cannot grow.
MB: I think that there is a big misunderstanding when it comes to freedom of expression, since people tend to believe that it’s the freedom to say what everyone already agrees with, when in reality it’s the right to say offensive things.
G: If you say something that offends someone, then expect to hear something offensive back or to get a few black eyes [laughs], but it’s necessary that people speak their minds. However, people must also be able to face the consequences of speaking their minds.
The way the world functions today is extremely Christian, and Christianity is based on scare tactics; they’re the most frightened people there are, and they’re making rules to protect themselves, so they’re denying this freedom. Why shouldn’t a man say that he doesn’t like Jews? Who really has a problem with someone saying that? If you are a Jew and don’t allow people saying that they dislike you or hate you… what kind of a person are you if you don’t let people speak up against you? It’s the same if people talk down on me because I’m gay; Why should I be offended? Why should I even care? I think that they should be allowed to shout whatever they want.
MB: The problem is that it is very easy to determine what offends everyone, the problem is that then it starts to expand. Look at what happens now in Russia, since we talk about homosexuality, where “homosexual propaganda” is illegal.
G: They’re denying the freedom of speech. If somebody tells you not to say something then of course you will say it.
In many ways, the energy that created black metal involves saying what nobody else dares to say. Back then the police were keeping track of us, and then it turned into something that Norway today is extremely proud of, which is very strange. Because of this small group of individuals that rebelled against those energies we have grown tremendously as a nation; we have made people aware of the repulsion against Christianity.
Now we have finally separated the church and the state; Iran and Norway were the only two countries left that had a state church. Asatru was legalized as a religion in Norway in 1996, and this wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t risen up against it. There are a lot of things that happened as a result of the anger and the rebellion that came out of black metal.
MB: Do you think that it’s fair to always associate black metal, if not for the fans at least for the outsiders, with destruction?
G: No; I don’t think that was ever the idea. If you see the lyrical concept of black metal, it was never about complete destruction, but rather with the growth and the potential of things. It’s very rarely about the downfall of anything.
It might be related to war against something, but there’s always a rebuilding energy in it.
MB: Even when it came to the burning of the churches, what has been said by those involved is that wasn’t so much about destroying something, but rather about bringing out what had been covered or occupied by them.
G: Churches were built on old heathen places. All the church burnings were justified because it’s something that was taken from us and destroyed. It is stolen property, it’s a sacred place that belongs to something else. They were stolen in the worst possible way.
MB: And if it was justified in the past, would it be justified in the future?
G: Yes, of course.
MB: Changing topics a bit. Thankfully, in most of the civilized world, Russia being the exception, the issue of homosexuality has stabilized. Now, metal has always been a bit of a macho-culture, even with a couple of murders of homosexuals by black metal musicians. When you “came out”, for lack of a better term, did you face the kind of backlash that gay people in the metal scene actually fear?
G: I think that when it comes to those murders it was only accidental that the victims were homosexuals. If people get too close to you and you don’t like what’s happening around you, a murder can happen! [laughs] I see it like this; Faust [ex-drummer of Emperor, convicted of murdering a gay man in 1994, released in 2003] and me have a good relationship. It’s just that when things come out in the media they paint this picture that shows an extreme anger against a certain group, but it’s usually just an accidental fluke whether it was a black guy that got killed or a gay guy that got killed.
MB: Well, black metal has been heavily associated with the so-called “far right”.
G: Yes, by all means. But there’s always a cause for the action. If someone becomes far-right that’s usually because of a reaction to something. I don’t like the idea that one’s enemies should color one’s position, but that is often the case.
If someone attacks or disturbs you, and he happens to be from a certain group, it will very easily color the way you see anyone related to that group. That’s usually what happens, especially when you’re younger, because that’s when you have a narrower focus, you’re not using the broad energy that you use when you get older.
MB: Well, the majority of these people were, indeed, quite young. They were just starting to understand the ideas and energies with which they were dealing back then.
G: I like the energy when it’s like that. It has an honesty to it. Of course, it might become a bit too pointy, like a spear. I like the honesty that you find in…
MB: The violence?
G: Not necessarily the violence, rather in the focus. If a new music or a new art form is created, it will be done by youngsters, it will not be created by people in their 40s. This energy that the youth has is the spear that starts the wars; the destruction and the rebuilding of things.
It’s a fascinating energy, but it’s very easy for them to be colored by their environment. Sometimes they have a very unlucky outcome, and sometimes they help things grow.
MB: And going back to your “coming out”; was there are any sort of backlash?
G: No, why should there be?
MB: Well, hell, it even happened to Rob Halford. One of the problems that are suspected to have lead to him leaving Judas was suspicions over his homosexuality.
G: I think people worry more about things than they need to. Petshop Boys had extreme problems with this in the States with the song “Domino Dancing”, which had no gay content whatsoever and featured a video about two boys trying to win over a girl. The video focuses more on the male beauty than on the female beauty, and as a result they were denied a lot of airplay.
The world has gone back and forth on this, but it’s more the worry than is put up there; I don’t think people really mind. I think that people normally mind because they react the way they think others want them to react.
Never be what others want you to be. Be yourself, that’s the only rule that exists within any form of “satanism”, if you want to call it that. Honesty is the only path to growth.
MB: And this “macho culture” in metal; does it bother you or bore you at some point?
G: I’ve never thought of it as a macho culture [Laughs] Who’s macho? I’m probably more macho than any of them! [laughs] I’ve never seen metal as a macho culture.
I think it’s more about what people think has been a reality. It’s not necessarily so.
We have Bjarne Melgaard, a famous artist. He has been following the black metal scene from the beginning, and he’s gay and very open about it. He doesn’t follow it as a fan, but rather focuses on this energy that exists in black metal, and has been taking snapshots and using them in his art. He has never been attacked for it or shunned by any of the black metal bands.
I think that the “macho” or “anti gay” idea is something that people just create in their heads; I really don’t think that people mind, as long as they are left alone. I would mind if somebody came up and hit on me, male or female, and I considered it inappropriate; it doesn’t mean that I’m against the one or the other.
MB: You have several projects in addition going on right now; God Seed, Wardruna, Gaahlskagg..? That probably sounded horrible, my Norwegian must be terrible.
G: That’s not Norwegian! [laughs] It’s just our names, Gaahl and Skagg! [laughs]
MB: Even worse! Now I should just leave in shame.
MB: With the exception of God Seed, these seem to be on ice right now. Is there any chance that we will see anything new from them?
G: Yes, I hope so, it’s the plan. I still have six Trelldom albums that I have to release. Skagg and me have a lot of music lying around… I don’t know how many albums we could make already, since we’ve traced down the music and the lyrics, so it would just be a matter of going to the studio.
Things need to be done on the right time, and they need a lot of focus when you do them. It costs a lot of money to go into the studio and there’s a lot of travel involved… and then there’s a lot of laziness involved. [laughs] There are many things lying around; if it doesn’t happen, well, it’s not the end of the world, it’ll just be something that couldn’t end up on someone’s headphones. There’s way too much material out there in the world already, so…
MB: Wardruna represented you more from the Pagan point of view, Gorgoroth from the “Satanic” side… are any of your projects closer to you, or are they all manifestations of your different faces?
G: I think that I would have to blend them all together. They all represent a different aspect, otherwise I wouldn’t need to do all of them. Trelldom has an extreme position for me, but it’s so personal that it might never be recorded in that sense, because it is there already. Sigfader, which is more of a Gaahl-Skagg project… there’s something extremely personal in it and it’s something that I feel really honored to be part of, it’s like the blood that runs through my veins.
All the things I do represent different energies, all of them have a lot of my energy, so I don’t think I could switch off any of them. I could switch them off in the sense of not releasing them, but I couldn’t switch off the topics in my head.
MB: So regardless of whether something is released, every project represents a part of what’s inside of you.
G: When you do a song you have to be what you present.
For instance, I don’t like to do guest appearances, but Niklas Kvarforth, from Shining, had been asking me for a long time to do something with him and then I said yes in a moment of weakness. Then he sent me the lyrics and the song and I tried to sing it the way I understood him, which is also why I did it in Swedish, his language. [laughs] I tried to express the song based on the way in which I know him at a personal level, presenting it in the way that I felt his emotions were.
MB: Everything that is connected with you will represent you, you won’t do anything otherwise?
G: I won’t do anything like that.
MB: Like the songs about dragons and mountains?
G: Yeah, it would be difficult to end up in such a concept [laughs]. It’s not necessarily a concept that I understand, so I wouldn’t be able to do it.
MB: I’ve been exploiting you for a long time; we were supposed to be together for 30 minutes and we’ve kept going for an hour so, to conclude… What is in the future for you? Or is it always a mystery?
G: It’s always a question… if I’m fed up with something I’ll easily withdraw and not do it anymore; And if a new concept is presented to me I might throw myself into it.
Tomorrow God Seed will play in Leeds at the Damnation Festival, then Helsinki on Monday with Wardruna… and that’s the last official musical appearance I’ll do this year. I hope that I’ll be able to go back home and finish some paintings that I’m working on.
Next year we’ll start with some concerts, but we have plans of recording the next God Seed album at least. We’re planning some touring also with Wardruna, but we’ll see; maybe something else will be created during that time next year.
This year, for the remaining months, I’ll focus on visual arts and on drinking wine in this place [Jacobs bar og Kjøkken] which will be closed in 2 months. This is the best place in the whole of Europe, but the owner sold it, so I’m really sad since this is one of the few reasons that there are to come to Bergen.
MB: You mentioned the paintings… weren’t you also a clothing designer?
G: No, that was just how media liked to portray things. I just helped a friend economically when he was getting started.
I don’t read all these things but it’s how people see them; probably because they don’t read the original source properly and also because newspapers, where a lot of these new come from, have never been correct in Norway. They are looking for the headlines.
MB: Well, something like that happened with Varg Vikernes. If you read the coverage, which I thought was shameful, it always said “ARRESTED FOR TERRORISM”, with “suspicion” hidden in the 7th or 8th paragraph (I take some pride on the fact that we were the only established publication that spoke out in his defense). At least, when it comes to the kind of crap they will print, being labeled a “fashion designer” is not the worst they can do!
G: [Laughs] That’s how it is, they create what sells. Sadly, most people just read the headlines, and that’s what we have to live with. People are usually stupid… until proven differently. [Laughs]
MB: Well, the reason why we started the magazine because we saw that people don’t really take this kind of thing seriously.
G: There’s a lot of people who don’t take things seriously; but it’s like that with everything… there’s always monkeys out there. The problem is if you allow them to be the ones running things.
There’s always people that look beyond.
MB: You know what will happen here? We’re going to publish this interview, eventually Blabbermouth or someone else will pick it up and just choose one quote from this gigantic interview. I assure you, it will be “more church burnings are justified”. We’ve been talking for an hour, but that’s the only thing that will be out there. Then kids will comment on this saying “Fuck the Church!” or “Fuck Gaahl! He sold out anyway!”
G: And he’s gay! [laughs]
MB: [Laughs] I really appreciate all the time you took to do this. It has been a pleasure.
G: No problem, my pleasure.