Minneriket has released a tribute album to one of the pillars of Norwegian black metal, Burzum. I talked to Stein Akslen about this album and about his band.
BRS – Hello again Stein. One more time I have to ask some questions about the new album “From the veins of a nearly dead boy - A tribute to BURZUM”. What was the idea behind this release?
Stein - It all started with just one cover song. I did a cover of «Lost Wisdom» from the Det Som Engang Var album just for myself. I played it for a few friends, and it got a positive reception. I decided to try to cover one or two other songs, staying true to the Burzum compositions but interpreting them with the sound of Minneriket. One thing led to another, and I decided it could be a solid release. There has been many Burzum tribute albums over the years, and I think I’ve listened to most of them. And this one, «From the veins of a nearly dead boy», will be a worthy addition to that pantheon of tribute albums.
BRS – The main name is “From the veins of a nearly dead boy…”. What’s the meaning of this title?
Stein - That’s actually a line from the song «A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit». I felt it touched upon a lot of what Burzum has presented over the years, but also what Minneriket has been about. This beautiful and poetic melancholia… The romantic darkness spilling out the life force of the artist.
BRS – This is not the first time you have recorded tribute tunes to well-known bands of Norwegian black metal. You had already recorded the song "Transilvanian Hunger" by the almighty Darkthrone. What is the importance to make these tributes?
Stein - True, but I actually did the «Transilvanian Hunger» cover after I finished this album. I just waited a while to release it. To me, it’s all about acknowledging your roots. My work is firmly rooted in the history of Norwegian Black Metal, even though I sometimes take the music in various directions. I tried to go into these older, incredible compositions and make them my own, perform them close to the original but with the distinct sound of Minneriket. Doing covers like this is a way to honour the past without trying to replicate it. I have also done covers of other artists, like Johnny Cash and Billy Idol, but I doubt I’ll ever release that…
BRS - What was the criteria for choosing the songs for this album and why did not you record the song "Dunkelheit"?
Stein - I had to do songs that I could relate to on a personal level. I did some demo versions of a lot of other songs too, including the above mentioned «Dunkelheit»… I love that song, perhaps my favourite Burzum song. But it didn’t feel right to perform it, as it didn’t strike the right nerve. So I had to scratch a lot of songs because I didn’t feel I could do them justice. I tried to include songs from different eras of the Burzum discography, and not just the early 90s songs. Closing with the «Back to the Shadows» song felt natural, and I’m glad I was able to be satisfied with this version of «Glemselens elv». Who knows, maybe I’ll make a volume two some other time if it feels right.
BRS - You have the same vision that Varg Vikernes had for his band. You are the only member and you play all the instruments. Is he your great influence?
Stein - I think it’s safe to say that without Burzum there would be no Minneriket. Burzum has single-handedly defined the music of a whole generation, and the combination of atmosphere, great riffs and vast melancholic soundscapes in often minimalistic compositions is severely underappreciated. There’s a real stroke of genius in every single one of the Burzum albums, and I consider him the best composer in Norway since the days of Edward Grieg. Burzum, and early Vond/Mortiis, is what inspired me to begin making music oh so many years ago.
BRS - As you know, Varg used in many of his recordings rudimentary materials to better capture the environment he wanted for his songs. Did you try to record the same way or did you use effects to create the same sound?
Stein - I did not try to replicate the original sound, or to record in the same way. To do this I had to keep it relevant to what Minneriket is about, and even though it’s a nostalgic project it’s not about trying to recreate the past. The sound on «From the veins of a nearly dead boy» is a much «better» production than what was used on the early Burzum albums… I love the original production, the original screaming vocals etc., but that’s not my style. I had to interpret this in my own musikal language. So I tried to find a middle ground between staying true to the original music and true to my own style. That’s why I had to dismiss so many songs that I considered, they didn’t work with this sound.
BRS - What was the song that was more difficult to record?
Stein - I had a lot of problems doing «Jesu død», because you really need to get the timing perfect for a ferocious song like that. I struggled with the guitars there for a while, both to get the right sound for the riffs and at the same time getting the timing right. From a more production-oriented point of view, «Glemselens elv» was difficult to put together because of how the instruments need to work together to create the right dynamic.
BRS - Did you talk to Varg to ask if you could record his songs for this album?
Stein - No, let’s hope he doesn’t mind too much. It’s a non-profit album done with the best intentions; to celebrate great compositions through decades. All musical and artistic rights remain with Burzum.
BRS - You have opted to release this album in a digital version only. Given that metal fans are the staunchest advocates of traditional formats, why launch only in digital version?
Stein - I know, I know… Me too, I love the physical products. There’s a few reasons for this. The first one is that I publish everything related to Minneriket on my own label, and thus have to support all the costs myself. Let’s face it, physical products are expensive. I need to at least break even for it to be possible to work like this. I do make cassette tapes and CD versions of the regular Minneriket releases. The other thing is that this is a tribute album consisting of cover songs. It wouldn’t feel right to launch this in a big way and profit on it. The downloads are free for whoever wants them and if someone wants to burn them to a CD or make their own cassettes, I’d be fine with that. I just wanted to make this accessible to the fans in the easiest way possible.
BRS - Speaking of digital formats, you released a single cassette for the song "Jærtegn" with a version of Venom's "Black Metal" on side B. Despite the futurism of the digital editions, you still prefer the traditional formats too?
Stein - Oh, absolutely! I hate digital files… I mean, it’s a great way to distribute music, and I always load up my MP3-player myself with various songs. But I prefer the real deal. A good tape design, a thick CD booklet, a great vinyl artwork… The presentation is important to me. «Jærtegn» was first released as a free digital download, but I thought it deserved something more. So I did the cover you mentioned and put it as a B-side on this really limited release on fluorescent tape. Just something for the collectors, because that’s the kind of things I appreciate myself. The entire full-length album, «Stjerner, speil og svartebøker…» was released on both CD and tape.
BRS - You are already preparing some songs for a new album. Can you talk a little bit about this?
Stein - I am, but I don’t think I can say much about it right now. When I first made «Vargtimen», I wanted to have the next album half-way written before I released it. I did the same with «Stjerner, speil og svartebøker…» as it’s a good way to ensure continuity in the art. This upcoming album will differ from the last two albums though, just as they differ from eachother. I guess I’ve written about 75% of the material, and the rest still only exist inside my head. I’m productive, but I’m not in a hurry, and nothing is released before I’m satisfied with the material.
BRS - Since you started this band in 2014, you're already on the third album and a few more singles. Do you have any work besides music or do you live only as a musician?
Stein - Yeah, the music is «just» a hobby, for a lack of a better word. I have a normal job and try to balance my life with that, music, and whatever else I need. I don’t think I’d ever be comfortable trying to live of the art… Because then it would feel like a chore, and that would kill the creative process. This way I can work in my own tempo and not have to fulfill any deadlines. I took a break from music for about six months after I was done working on «Stjerner, speil og svartebøker…» because the creative process is hard and painful, and drains me of energy. I need to be able to do these breaks, and then get back to it when it feels right.