FAUSTCOVEN "Down At The Crossroads" 

By Lord Randall 

And lo, thenceforth did Lord Randall sit within the ashen aspect of “In The Shadow Of Doom’, the seemingly immortal Gunnar M.H. granting a rare peek into the heart and soul that beats within him as founding member/creative force behind FAUSTCOVEN. Behold… 

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Six years seems a bit of a long stretch between albums for Faustcoven. Normally, there'd have been at least a song or two on a split release. It wasn't like there were member changes or anything. Was the wait based on holding off to make sure whatever you released was up to the level of quality you demand, or simply lack of inspiration?

GUNNAR M.H.: As the driving force of the band, and the one that does almost everything, the list of tasks become quite long. Write music, lyrics, record instruments and vocals, produce everything except drums, master and mix the music, work with the label on layout and other details, and so on. So each album becomes a fairly monumental undertaking for me in terms of time and mental energy. Small children tend to quite eagerly take both of those away from you. So there you have it.

WC: You've been working with Johnny Tombthrasher exclusively on drums for about a dozen years now. Do you ever see a day when there'll be a full, rounded-out lineup of Faustcoven in the traditional sense? 

Gmh.: I have a live lineup that I am very comfortable with. But as for recording and writing music, I think it will mostly stay the way it is, even if there were some contributions from the other guys on this album. Such as quite a few great guitar solos from Einar (live guitar), and the harmonica solo at the end of ‘As White As She Was Pale’ by Kenneth (live bass). There's also the fact that we are separated by about 350km that prevents any more frequent collaborative efforts. Never say never though.

WC: Given the extended time between musical outputs, you had ample time to craft 'In The Shadow Of Doom" into something where every facet, every smallest element was given focus in order to form the highest (most true) album of FAUSTCOVEN – both in quality and ethical drive – yet. That being said, do you feel you succeeded? Despite fans' expectations, if everything was not in its perfect incarnation, would you have released the album as was, or waited even possibly another year?

GMH.: At this point I should be more in the critical reflection phase toward "In The Shadow Of Doom", as I've heard all the songs 100s of times, but I have to say. I do not see any nagging weak points. Imperfections, sure, but I think the album is quite consistently strong, and achieves what I wanted it to. As boring a cliche as it may be, I think this is my strongest album overall so far, though I am quite fond of all of them. And for the last question, I am not such a perfectionist in the studio, that I can see myself not releasing an album or delaying it with a year to rerecord it if I wasn't satisfied with every note. I know my limitations, and they are both in time and talent, but I am confident enough in my craftsmanship that I know if I have a strong collection of songs when I go into the studio, the album will turn out just fine. So if there is anywhere where I would have spent the time improving things if necessary, before bringing out a new album, it would be on songwriting, not studio tinkering.

WC: When creating, or even when not, do you feel it best to let one idea flow into another naturally, or let inspiration come as it will, or will you pore over the most "insignificant" detail in order to achieve your goal?

GMH.: At least that is how I want it to be in the ideal world. How much is dictated by that fickle inner muse and how much is more of an intellectual process varies in practice. But I think that if you have to sit endlessly debating yourself during the album creation, you may be on the wrong path. And I got to say that this album was very much the opposite of that. When the time was ready, I just felt it, and the songs more or less came into being during a couple of weeks, very easily, and very naturally. I have probably not felt as inspired since I recorded my first demo 16 years ago.

WC: Going into 'In The Shadow Of Doom', is there anything you knew you wanted to steer clear of? Any new aspect you wanted to shine a light on, or sonic journey you wanted to take that maybe you hadn't before?

GMH.: Certainly. I have a fairly clear idea about the musical landscape that FAUSTCOVEN belongs in, but for every album I want to highlight a different part of that landscape. Rather than being a linear journey, progressing from album one and onward, it is more circular and chaotic than that. I revisit some aspects of an older album here, another aspect from another album there, while adding a few new ideas along the way. For ITSOD I knew I wanted to go down a different path than Hellfire, which was more focused on hooks and big riffs, exemplified by the main riff on the title track. In many ways, 'Hellfire and Funeral Bells" is a quintessential FAUSTCOVEN song, that I am very proud of to this day, with its Faustian theme and monolithic and austere central riff. However, I feared that if I moved too far in that direction, I would start churning out these endless, doomy, stonery riffs that would be very easy for me to write, but would grow stale very fast. So from day one I knew that I wanted this album to be more complex and obscure in nature, with more frequent and extreme changes in tempo and song structures. It is all relative though, because obviously there are songs and moments that could have been on "Hellfire" too on this one, and the speed is still very measured, and it is never technical, or complex for the sake of being complex. But I change up the formula enough each time to challenge myself, and to make sure that the end result will feel fresh to me, not just a rehash or recycling of old ideas.

WC: With black metal being supposed as the music of rebellion and non-conformity, there are still so many that hold to strict rules that must be adhered to, even when it comes to bands they had once respected. For such a "rebellious" audience, the fans of black metal can be the most fickle, hard to please, easy to piss off whining dogs in existence when even a "favorite" band doesn't follow a desired path. Does this enter into your consciousness at all when creating when it comes to the fans of FAUSTCOVEN that have been there since 'Satanic Doom' 2002?  

GMH.: No. I live in a shadowy world outside any such considerations. I am immensely appreciative of those few that has followed my band since the beginning, and of anyone that joined them since, but I am a very poor reader of other people’s minds, tastes or ideas, and much better at reading my own. So I do not cater, and to betray or dilute my own vision would in the end be to betray the loyal fans of the band.

WC: On the one hand, they have stayed on because they enjoy/respect your art, and have given it place in their life. On the other hand, it's YOUR creation, not theirs, so it's not up to you to strive to please anyone but you.

GMH.: Well exactly, and that is not out of a need to elevate myself above my listeners. Again; I know what resonates with me, and I can only guess what resonates with others, one of these provides a poor map with which to navigate the seas of creativity, so I swear by the other. Importantly, I get motivation from the appreciation of fans, not inspiration. Those are two very different things.

WC: Was the more organic, "live" production a conscious choice for you when it came to the new album, or simply a by-product of the way the songs developed and demanded to be presented? What steps did you take to achieve this?

Gunnar M.H.: Yes and no. There is always an element of coincidence when I undertake the production of a new album every 4-5 years, just from the sheer time that pass in between. That’s why they never sound quite the same. Circumstances around the recording, the equipment I have been using, the new things I learned between albums, the things I learned previously, forgot then rediscovered, and most importantly what I have not learned, and only understand after an album is finished. But I started here with the idea to make the album sound a bit more obscure and less clean than Hellfire, and then the sound that begun developing by its nature was more live, and in your face. It reminded my of standing in the practice room with the whole band, rocking out, and everything being too loud, so then I just went for that 100%. It is very uncompressed, anti loudness war, so ironically the average volume level of the album is quite low as a result. But for precisely this reason, it will really shine when the volume is cranked. I also took a lot of care to make sure that each instrument did not occupy the same sonic space, so that the drums do not interfere with the bass that again does not interfere with the guitars and so on. As a result, despite being fairly raw, each instrument is clearly audible, and punchy, with room to breathe. I have to confess that I really like how the bass turned out this time for this reason. Like a battering ram to the gut.

WC: Aside from bands such as NECRITE and yourselves, there are few entities blending black metal and doom into something seamless – almost its own. Even so, there has to be authenticity in both in order to create something that successfully mixes the two. Back when FAUSTCOVEN was beginning to take shape, who were you influenced by? Also, do you see yourself as moving "beyond your influences" now, or who, if anyone, has influenced/impressed you recently?

Gunnar M.H.: While I clearly was, and still am very inspired by BATHORY, DARKTHRONE, PENTAGRAM and CANDLEMASS, I think the balance that I struck between the styles, and the way my riffs do not really conform to strict genre limitations makes FAUSTCOVEN its own thing. In general I find myself thinking less and less about the subject of what Black Metal and Doom Metal is, or should be, as the years go by. It is ultimately a far less fruitful mental pursuit to patrol the borders of your tastes and creativity, than writing a good song that is what it is. However, originally, I think the day the light bulb turned on in my head was when I realised just how close a song like ‘Dark World’ by Saint Vitus was to something that HELLHAMMER could have written, and how creepy and evil the atmosphere in PENTAGRAM’s ‘The Ghoul’ was compared to almost any contemporary (late 90s early 2000s) Black Metal. I thought that this type of doom would be very interesting to combine with slow/midtempo black metal, which was my favourite type, potentially making for a deadly hybrid that could be really powerful, heavy and atmospheric at the same time. So those two songs were the instigators of the whole concept, really. Not so much has changed beyond that point even if I can mention many bands that have motivated me like a swift kick in the ass, since I begun, and only to a lesser degree provided direct inspiration (there we have that distinction again). Hail, NECROS CHRISTOS, NEGATIVE PLANE, CULTES DES GHOULS and MALOKARPATAN are some shining examples. If there has been any movement in my approach to metal, it is probably in aligning myself more closely with the MERCYFUL FATE school of Black Metal.

WC: As much as you're willing, go a bit into the inspirations behind 'Yet He Walks' and 'As White As She Was Pale'.

GMH.: Oh, that is easy. While ‘As White as She Was Pale’ is a meditation on facing death as an unbeliever, on the acceptance of the end of this life as a journey into the unknown, and thus being able to make peace with not having all the answers (and the fact that in all probability no one does). This stands in contrast to the second part of the song ‘Black Hound’ (which is part of the complete title) where believers always looking over their shoulders, are chased to their grave by the jaws of black hounds snapping at their heels, the manifestation of the concept of damnation. The question “What if you are wrong?” is one often posed to unbelievers, which to us probably sounds far less profound and thought-provoking than believers might think. On the other hand, how many believer secretly think to themselves every day “What if I am right, but do not measure up in the end?”. The harmonica and the solo lick at the end are alluding to the baying of the hounds as well as being small bluesy nods toward Robert Johnson’s “Hellhound On My Trail”which provided some inspiration for the topic and title. What I also can say is that since the text was written more or less 6 years ago, the subject has not lost any of its poignancy. For those intimate encounters with mortality do not grow less frequent as we grow older, I fear. I am haunted by this song. But in a benign way.

WC: You'll be playing a fest in Berlin in November. How has the FAUSTCOVEN experience carried over in a live setting, and have you noticed a difference in the audiences in certain areas of Europe? 

GMH.: We have done very few shows outside of Norway to be honest, and few in Norway too. 2 German shows and perhaps 6 in Norway it the total tally after close to 10 years. It is the time limitation and the fact that we live in different cities which is mostly to blame. So I cannot compare audiences through Europe. But as to the first part, I think that one thing that I have learned is that there are FAUSTCOVEN songs that work very well live, and others that don't. While this do not sound like a remarkable observation, it is not always easy to predict which before it has been tested as there are always exceptions, but some of the more uptempo and energetic songs come across better on stage than some more atmospheric, slower songs. I think that getting a story or a mood, or an atmosphere across on stage is harder than pure power and heaviness, so naturally those latter aspects become more of the focus live.

WC: Plans for the remainder of the year?

GMH: The launch of the album, Berlin, and then pretty much nothing else. That does not mean that nothing else will come up, but as for concrete plans, we have very few. We are hoping to do a few more gigs in 2019, although at this point in time only Hamburg in March at Hell In Hammaburg is confirmed.