By Lord Randall 

NARGAROTH has never been a band to shy away from controversy, but let’s be fair here. The majority of said “controversy” was, in truth, germinated in the fetid womb of would-be scene police – the basement-dwelling raconteurs of nowadays. Founder Ash has remained largely unconcerned and impervious to whatever may/may not be happening in the world of black metal, concerning himself these days with Era Of Threnody, released on his own Inter Arma Productions. Lord Randall sat down with Ash recently for one of the most honest dissections of black metal as art you’ll ever come across. Read on…

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: With no new music specifically under the NARGAROTH name since 2009’s "Jahreszeiten" and "Era Of Threnody", was there ever a moment when you thought there might not be another NARGAROTH album?

ASH: Things like the creation of an album should take time. Especially when it is supposed to have a deeper meaning. As I express through my albums personal encounters and experiences, the actual album had to wait until the time was right. Aside from this, that there might be no other NARGAROTH album is omnipresent.
WC: Once "Era Of Threnody" began coming together, did the process flow smoothly, or did you simply look around one day and realize there was enough music/lyrics for an album?

A: Everything came and flew together smoothly and nicely. It was very synergetic working with Bernth who had been in a similar situation as I was. I think therefore we had the same emotional state and frequency. The lyrics took longer than the actual songs. I wanted to express it right to the point without any room for speculations – at least for myself.

WC: The album was composed during a time when you were roaming across the Americas, both North, South and Central, including some First Nations reserves in Canada. Were you on a vision quest, of sorts? 

A: In one of my older songs I sang “I was the Ahab of my life” and so it turned out to be. I remember people that I met during my travels envying me for my journey and my decision. But considering the reasons for it and the fact, that after so many years I rather wanted to reach “a harbor” instead of set forth over the high seas again, I didn't feel that way. Truth to be told, I partly envied their little busy life with their own families. Nevertheless, it was a great experience and I met so many people that I hold dear in my memories. I don't regret anything about it and hold it grateful as part of my bigger life journey. 

WC: Explain the phrase – or the meaning you took from the phrase – “going to war with myself”.

A: I therefore had the feeling to “go to war” with certain habits, concepts of myself and my life. If you ever have been in therapy or being “forced” by your environment or dear people around you to change and give up old conceptions of your self-image, you might get what I mean. 

WC: I’ve had my share of those, which I call ‘Shiver Me Timbers’ moments, from the Tom Waits song of that name. With each of those moments, I feel terrified, but know there’s only one thing to do, and that’s sail on.

A: I am rather a solution finder and I get things done – so to say. I don't drink nor do I drugs to “ease my pain”. That doesn't work for me. I must somehow go through a hard time with an open eye in order to learn something or to develop. And this doesn't happen when you numb your senses. When I made through the hard time, I start to write it down in form of poems – and eventually write songs which become an album.

WC: To reference Tolkien, I’ve always found it both amusing and saddening that many assume because you’re “roaming” or “wandering”, that you are “out of place” or “missing” something. Sometimes the journey is the destination, or the destination is a new place within yourself…

A: I am not familiar with Tolkien and I have never read anything of or about him. I therefore quote Hank Williams that I can be seen as a ‘Ramblin' Man’. Wherever I was, rested or stopped, I always dreamed about being on the road. Even when I was talking to people I day-dreamed about me, sitting on my chopper - I am a biker almost all my life - driving on the road. 

WC: Your press release refers to NARGAROTH as “Germany’s longest-running black metal band”. Are you now standing behind that before 1996 in Germany there was no black metal band that still exists today? 

A: I haven't written the press release and I don't know if it’s true that no BM band from before 1996 isn't active anymore. I don't deal with any scene matters anymore since a very long time, and I don't intend to change that. I know that I am still here, I know what I intend to do and that I am responsible for my family now. All others are just strangers.

WC: What were your first influences/experiences with black metal, and do you think you have over time moved beyond your influences to create something fully original?

A: I can’t determine the first Black Metal song or tape I have heard. I did a lot of tape trading since the ‘80s in the Eastern Block, and when the borders opened in 1989/90 me and other metal guys had an immense response on tapes. Among the first formations were SARCOFAGO from Brazil and later SIGH from Japan, for what I remember. Bands like BURZUM or MAYHEM caught attention and stood out alone for their different vocal style, but were far less of an influence for me, than is repetitively stated by outsiders in the internet. When I listened to BURZUM, I felt more attracted to its ambient songs than to its actual metal songs, and the album "Filosofem" was for me by far his best work. If at all, it was more what BURZUM represented in the scene in the ‘90s that made it interesting for me than his actual musical work. Until today, I believe, that BURZUM is more a philosophical way to live than just a musical project. Truth, though, I have not followed his career after he got released from prison, nor have I listened to any of his works after "Hliðskjálf", which would mark to me a dignified end of a career.

Anyway, I was never very much into Norwegian Black Metal, although I enjoyed the demos of COVENANT" From The Storm Of Shadows” and TROLL’s "Trollstorm Over Nidingjuv", which is to me one of the finest Norwegian BM releases. I was always more of an early time Polish Black Metal admirer - GRAVELAND in their Black Metal days in particular. Their Demo "In The Glare Of Burning Churches" is my all-time favorite among Black Metal releases, and represents in sound and layout how I wish Black Metal would still sound and look like. GRAVELAND’s album "Thousand Swords" were an influence – to an extent – on my first album. Aside from that, I cannot see any musical or ideological influence besides happenings in my life and how I dealt with them, which reflects in my lyrics. I furthermore don't put any significant amount of attention to the scene, or any BM releases since about 15 years. I don't come in touch with what is out there. And the little encounters when someone send me a link to his underground band album aren't really an inspirational part of my life. Other people might want to hear similarities to this or that metal band or even see stolen elements, which I reject completely, as they were no part of the writing or recording, nor are they a part of my soul. It’s nothing but an outsider opinion, and by this, must be ignored as such. I would have no problem at all to mention musical influences or inspirations, as it is nothing despicable. When people start to detect some old fiddle country style in my music, I may have to reconsider that statement, if you catch my drift.

WC: In the current climate, there are many (too many in my opinion) bands who view black metal as an art form only, like deciding to work with oils instead of charcoal in painting/drawing. Can there be black metal without a dedication to darkness? Is it possible to be “influenced by” black metal without playing the style straightforward, or is it vital to be entirely committed?

A: Black Metal is an art dear to me, and it annoys me a great deal what it has become. That's why I do not deal with scene matters anymore, as it just forces me to deal with the bullshit I am tired of. Nowadays “progress” delivers via internet Black Metal into every kid’s room – complete discography and background information included. Other than in the old days, when exclusively metal heads went through the sometime tedious efforts to obtain an album or demo, today more and more non-metalions (as I call them), without a metal background and often without any spirituality have access to Black Metal. In the course of adolescent rebellion, or maybe just a general interest into music, they listen, display or even make Black Metal, which is technically easy to create. By this, these people, these non-metalions - who are a product of nowadays strange social developments - bring their own values and strange virtues into Black Metal. Often these people are totally separated from the Black Metal roots, and therefore find some old [and true] metalion's behavior, attitude and ideology strange or even offensive – compared to their soft education. When such nutjobs get into a key position of Metal ‘zines you have to face that crap, we have to deal nowadays in Metal in general.

Black Metal is small reflection of the nowadays society, and by that you'll find these elements now also within the scene. Social networks allow every nutjob to post their opinion, as worthless as they might be. In the end we have a potpourri of opinions, bands and sickening demands pushed by metal press. 

WC: Your music has always had an affinity or love for nature, for the wilderness, the elements. How do you reconcile black metal’s view of humanity as either conqueror or disease with the fact that man is part of nature? As we are all, for whatever here on the planet, is it possible to coexist as a part of nature without being destructive of it in 2017?

A: I come from a little place that is surrounded by fields and forest. Wild nature is my natural habitat where I adapt to be whatever I am. It’s naturally a part of me. I always longed for living (or at least being for a while) in different jungles. A tropical rainforest is in my opinion the place with the most lethal competition, where life and death exist in a very competitive harmony. In 2006 I went to Vietnam and later to Brazil to be in these tropical environments, and the experiences were  the strongest impacts on my views of life & death. There is almost no day I don't miss being in the jungle. What happened to me there I partly expressed lyrically on my last album from 2011 in the song ‘A Whisper Underneath The Bark Of Old Trees’.

I personally think that by now there are too many humans on earth who exploit the resources. We have too much uneducated people everywhere that don't see, and therefore don't care, about the environment. Of course Black Metal didn’t begin the view that the number of humans is too high, and that humankind can be seen as parasites. Monopolists and industrialists stated that opinion decades ago and developed ideas how to minimize the number of humans on earth. Whatever is reflected in Black Metal is already a part of the general society, expressed by individuals with mild or heavy personality disorders. Aside, what is expressed in Black Metal regarding human nature, its duality or vision of demise is part of the human soul since the great time of philosophers. Black Metal has therefore no special claim to misanthropy. 
And that it is possible to coexist with nature is proven by the living example of primitive people or indigenous people. But they are spiritual, capable and few in number and by that are no danger to nature or their habitat. 

WC: Why the decision to release the album on your own Inter Arma Productions. Do you find it’s best to keep everything “in house”, so to speak?

A: I stayed with No Colours Records for a long time. I overcame big troubles with them because of their reputation, because I felt bonded to the word I gave him back in 1999 when he helped me out of deep trouble. But over the past years, especially in 2011, I got more and more the impression, that he didn’t put enough energy into his label. To my eyes, in the last decade, he lost the grip to the changing label work. Aside that, I felt he lost interest in the serious metal work. In a conversation he partly agreed with it and, truth to be told, that's fair to me. I understand that there can come a time when you must reorganize your path, and maybe you find out your old ways aren’t proper anymore for you. But you have to be fair to tell it to the ones who dependson you, the bands who expect you to do a good job, to work in their interest. And in that case, the label hadn’t done the necessary. Almost all the big bands that were on No Colours Records left because they saw the limits of the label. I have accepted these problems for a long time. Problems with the quality of the merchandise, the small international distribution of NARGAROTH’s releases and many more that I won't discuss here. So, after many years of conversations and promises to change from his side, and having only done small or no changes at all, I told him I couldn’t stay under his flag anymore. It's hard to act against my word, but I gave him more than enough chances. Therefore I have decided that I will release further NARGAROTH releases on my own. It’s a continuation of NARGAROTH as a stand-alone entity. 

WC: Plans for the remainder of the year? I know you have the tour with ABSU and HATE coming up. Have you played with either before, and do you feel that black metal can exist as a studio-only creation? Must there be a live element, at least for NARGAROTH? 

A: I have played with neither before, but have seen a performance of HATE at a festival I played a show at as well. Black Metal can exist as a studio creation only, as well as a live experience. The high number of shows seem to support such statement. But we have to respect the fact of numerous bad performances as well. There are many shows and gigs, but only a few bands are capable of transmitting the studio atmosphere on stage. Then again, there are bands that suck on LP but kick ass live and vice versa. Therefore the question, if Black Metal can be both studio-only and live is depending of the capability and the authenticity of the band, and not so much on the art as subject itself.