1349 - How Hot Is Hellfire?

Interview with Archaon by Dr. Abner Mality

I never would have suspected that Archaon, fire-breathing guitarist for Norway's hellish black metal warriors 1349, had a taste for almond cappucino with hazelnut. But that was indeed his beverage of choice when we hooked up in Chicago on the occasion of 1349's gig with the legendary Celtic Frost at the Vic. Did it worry him that it might ruin his sinister mystique by imbibing the frothy, fou-fou cup of joe? The answer was definitely: hell, no! The man off the stage seems entirely different from the raging maniac stalking it an hour later

1349 has hit the States with a bang. After laying down their incredibly destructive rampage "Hellfire", they landed the amazingly plumb gig with Celtic Frost...few underground metal bands could ask for a better introduction to America. I was glad to hook up with Archaon for a chat and let him discuss such pithy subjects as the unique background of Norwegian black metal, what it was like playing with icons like Celtic Frost and how the band plans to top "Hellfire".

Herewith is presented the first in my series of cozy coffeehouse chats with black metal movers and shakers....

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: How has the tour with Celtic Frost and Sahg been going and what are your impressions of America so far?

ARCHAON: So far the tour has been going very good for us. As you might know, this is the first tour we've been doing here and it's been very, very good for us. We've been treated very well by the Celtic crew and everyone else. Celtic Frost are terrific guys to tour with and we've known them from before. The venues that they play are the good ones...not the shitty ones that you have to go to if you were on a five or six band bill. We're playing larger venues. They're not always sold out but there have been a lot of people coming.

WC: Chicago is a great metal city so this will probably be one of the best shows.

A: It's the most beautiful venue we've played so far.

WC: Celtic Frost is such a legendary band in the underground. When you first met them, were you overawed by them or did you click with them right away?

A: It's so funny because there's a story to that as well. First time we met Celtic, we were touring with Gorgoroth in 2004 in Europe. The guy who is our session guitarist now, Teloch, was playing session guitar for Gorgoroth back then. That's how we got to know him. When we got to the south of Europe on that tour, we played in Switzerland and covered Celtic Frost's "The Usurper". When we walked off the stage, the guys were in the venue! We didn't know that. Then, it was quite overwhelming for pretty much everyone. I'm familiar with Celtic Frost and know all their classics, but I've never been a true diehard fan of them, to be honest. However, Ravn, our singer, has and our drummer Frost has. They've always been diehard Celtic Frost fans. So we met them back in 2004 and the vibe between the two bands was very good and we had a lot of fun. We invited them backstage and had a long chat with them. We were amazed that they actually liked our music!.

Then, in 2005,we came back there and we invited them as guests. So right before the show, Ravn brought Tom on stage, gave him the mike and just said "go". And we played "The Usurper" again, now with Tom on vocals! Since then, we've been in touch with them regularly, mainly Ravn, and we decided to try this tour, to make this possible.

WC: This is a great way to break into the American market. You mentioned that Teloch is now a session guitarist for 1349. Let me ask you about the current make-up of the band. Is Frost still your drummer?

A: Yeah, yeah. He's playing with Satyricon now. Let's make things straight. There are no hidden things going on as far as Frost is concerned. Frost has always said that his main band is obviously Satyricon. But everyone was sort of shocked when he decided to play in another band full-time...1349. That was kind of annoying. He does not want to let Satyricon go. He wants to be in 1349, he wants to be a full-time member. So he had to step aside for a little bit and help us find another suitable drummer for the time being.

WC: You got one. (They are using the services of ex-Nile drummer Tony Laureano for the American tour-->
A: We definitely got one. There are very few drummers who are even capable of playing with us. I had a chat with Frost about this and he said "who do you think should get it?" and I said "The Nile drummer". We talked about Tony or Derek (Roddy, formerly with Hate Eternal and many others) preferably Tony. Frost said, "I've seen Tony live so Tony will be the man".

WC: Derek Roddy was another name I thought of immediately as one of the guys who has the speed and precision to play with 1349.

A: Those guys were from America, which makes it easier when we tour over here. When we were in Europe, we were in vague negotiations with Nick Barker (ex Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir) but it was not possible because Nick is busy with so many projects. At first, Tony couldn't do it because of other projects, but once things cleared up, he was our first priority without a doubt and we're glad to have him.

WC: How does your second guitarist situation stand now? Will you stay a one guitar band in the studio or will you go out and get a permanent second guitarist?

A: Ummm...we've thought about this situation. We will be doing the next album as a four piece. Tjalve will now be playing with his new band Pantheon I, which uses cello and violin and uses a bit of folk along with black metal. It's pretty far from 1349, which is all about speed and power. He did things in the best way, realizing that things weren't working out and that he had to step aside.

WC: So he left on good terms?

A: Yeah. Everthing's OK and it will have no consequences for 1349.

WC: Since "Hellfire" was such an extreme album and it was so well-received, how do you top it? There's a certain level where you can't get any faster without losing the music completely and sounding like a vacuum cleaner.

A: Actually, we were trying to get more extreme with "Hellfire". We always try to progress. Our first album "Liberation" was the fastest of its time but people would say "oh, this is oldschool black metal". But you could never say that. We know what they meant, but we are much faster. Oldschool black metal had more of a rocky, mid-tempo way of playing, almost like punk. Now on our second album "Beyond the Apocalypse" was the same but even a bit darker and with a better production and now "Hellfire" is yet another step where the band has evolved. We've matured a lot this time around.

WC: I think you pretty much nailed what you were looking for with "Hellfire".

A: We felt more satisfied than ever with this album.

WC: Could you ever see yourself in the future performing a song that is mid-tempo or doomy or is 1349 devoted to pure speed?

A: No. There is much more going on than just speed. OK, we have concentrated on aggressive material, but there's also a very dark element. You will find some thrash influences in 1349, because we're all into stuff like Slayer and Kreator...

WC: I could hear that for the first time on "Hellfire". On your previous records, not so much, but this time there were a couple of songs where I'd say "here comes a riff from Sodom or Kreator".

A: Exactly. There have always been other influences but now they appear more and more. I would say "Hellfire" has elements from a much wider spectrum. It is much faster than our other albums at times. At other times, it is also much slower than we have ever been. For example, track 4, "Celestial Deconstruction", is very slow, at least for us. Then track 3, "Sculptor of Flesh", is the most groovy.

WC: That's the one I thought was the most old school thrash...

A: There's some mid-tempo stuck in there. So the album has some new riffing that we really haven't used so much before. The main thing for 1349 is, does the song work within the vision we create? The music we create is kind of magic even for us in the band. We never set up a formula before we make an album, it's not like we say "this is what the album must be like".

WC: It just happens.

A: It has to. To a certain extent, you have to know what you're going to do, but not everything. That would take the mystique away from it, which I think is 90% of black metal. So this is something we have to work out. It's very tense when we're in the studio. When we're in the creative process, we're tense. We're strong individuals ...I'm not saying that we fight all the time...but there is a lot of tension involved. It's a struggle to focus and create the album. And then when you've done the album, you turn around and go "what?!" We have to let it all go now!

WC: It's like sports. When you're "in the zone", everything clicks. Moving now to the title track of "Hellfire", whose idea was it to make the song exactly 13 minutes and 49 seconds long?

A: (laughter) We were in the studio and that song was not 100% finished. It was almost finished, we had all the riffs . I didn't write anything for that particular song. We were putting it together in the studio, walked in, did the song and it ended up being 13:20. It was either Ravn or Frost that said "it's 13:20...let's put some screams and noise in to make it 13:49!" It's a real curiousity how that turned out!

WC: I didn't catch that until the second or third time I heard it.

A: Have you seen our logo, the chaos star that we use?

WC: Yes.

A: It also says "1349", if you look at it right. This is also something that took people a while to see. There are a lot of small things like that going on.

WC: Do you think that Americans will ever have the same understanding of black metal that Europeans do? So much of the music seems to be built on ancient European culture and history. Fans here can appreciate the aggression of the music but will they ever understand the whole philosophy behind it the way the Europeans do?

A: Perhaps. In my impression of the United States, there's a lot of emphasis on technicality. You have the best death metal scene ever in the States! In my eyes, only Sweden and America have dominated the death metal scene. There is technicality in black metal but much more emphasis on atmosphere. It's hard to grasp unless you read into it or you travel and see what we are talking about.

WC: It appeals to a more intellectual mind...

A: Yes, yes! There are more abstract themes and subjects behind the music. If you have ever been to Norway or if you will ever travel to Norway, then you would see what I mean if you have a proper journey. Don't visit the cities there because that is nothing. That's the same in every country you go to. If you walk around shopping and drinking and doing whatever you usually do, that's great but you can do that in pretty much every country. However, if you go out in the countryside or away from the city, then you'll find a lot of majestic images like huge mountains. This is something we grow up with in Norway. It's something that's totally normal for us. My father used to take me to these places when I was a kid and it makes an impression that is hard to describe. I remember when we walked up a mountain, my little sister and my father...and we looked out and it looked like a picture. There was no movement, no sign of humanity. You could see everything. Those are the feelings that inspire us.

WC: It's funny. There are some areas in North America that are developing a black metal scene and I've noticed they are usually places that have great scenery. Places like Washington state and Canada produce a lot. Those are unspoiled areas. I wonder if it's a prerequsitie that you're in tune with...

A: Nature?

WC: Yeah! Black metal seems more natural coming from an environment like Norway or Washington or the Canadian mountains.

A: It's difficult to say exactly what makes the difference, but it seems that Norwegian and some Swedish bands understand it the best. There are plenty of Norwegian bands that don't "get it", though. I have to be honest and say that most of the bands I recognize as good black metal are from Norway.

WC: Are you involved in any other projects or bands outside of 1349?

A: I am not. I used to be in a band called Funeral , a doom metal band. But now I am just working on 1349 material. I've been working on material for the next album and I have some rough ideas. I have to bounce them off the other guys, but I am very sure that we will top "Hellfire"! I don't know if we can do that twice, but we will be able to do it one more time. Our bassist Seiderman also plays with (could not make out name) but he's prioritizing and focuses on 1349. As you know, Frost is in Satyricon. Ravn has no other bands. That's pretty much it.

WC: What was the last CD you got just for your own enjoyment?

A: I think it was actually Peter Gabriel. The one with "Sledgehammer" on it...

WC: Can't remember the name either, but it's got "Shock the Monkey" on it,too.

A: It's far from having anything to do with metal. As far as metal goes, the last one I picked up was the CD by Nidingr, the band of our session guitarist Teloch. It's one of the few black metal records that has been really good lately. I also enjoy a band called "Code", which is more mid-tempo. Their last album is my favorite of all black metal albums in the 2000's...excepting the ones I've been in myself. (laughter)

WC: Is there any sort of Spinal Tap moment for 1349 that you'd like to share with the fans?

A: Hmmmmm. (he spends a long time thinking about it). Yes, I think I have one. You know, I breathe fire on stage with the band. We were playing a gig one time and I sucked up some of the fluid I spit out to make the fire. Well, this was a different solution than what I usually use...much thicker and greasier. I could tell it was different. When the time came for me to spit it out, I raised up my torch and spit. But this stuff was so thick that it didn't reach the fire! So I wound up spitting greasy fuel over myself and holding a torch during the middle of a song!(laughter) That sure qualifies as a Spinal Tap moment!

1349's Official Website