BRZ – Hello again Stein and thank you again to answer some questions to Black Reich Zine. On your website you describe Minneriket as Norwegian Romantic Black Metal. What's so romantic about what you create?
Stein - Hello, and thank you for the opportunity. Always a pleasure talking to you.
When the Romantic era originated as an artistic and intellectual movement in Europe towards the end of the 18th century, there was an emphasis on strong emotions, individualism and a glorification of the cultural past and the nature that surrounds us. This is a philosophy that resonates with what I do with Minneriket and an approach that I think many performing artists can relate to.
Romance is so much more than just the popularization of love. Romance is strong and deep emotional desires, a yearning to connect to something and to grow emotionally attached. This deep longing for something outside of yourself, either in nature or spirit, is the essence of what I try to present with Minneriket.
I’ve been noticing there’s been some controversy regarding me calling it Romantic Black Metal. Those people need to pull their heads out of their asses, shut up and use their minds for more than two seconds at the time, and it shouldn’t be too hard understand why I label this as romantic art.
BRZ – In this new album “Anima Sola”, you are more direct to the listener than you were before but the album title is something like cheer up alone if I’m right. It’s not a contradiction?
Stein - “Anima Sola” means the lonely soul. The title and artwork (which has not yet been revealed) are based on the catholic imagery of the lonely spirit burning in purgatory.
As you say, this album is speaking directly to the listener. It doesn’t sugar coat anything, and it doesn’t hide esoteric meanings behind poetic imagery to the same extent as before. It’s a lot more obvious in the presentation. It acts more like a communication between myself and the listener, instead of being the internal dialogue (well, look at that – a little tribute to Maria Mena) with myself. I’ve been trying to include the listener more in the lyrics this time, focusing on the exchange of energies between myself and the audience. It has to be presented with heart and conviction, and that is something the audience will recognise and respond to. It appeals to the loneliness of the listener, and even together we are alone. It will without a doubt make them uncomfortable, because this is a very uncomfortable album – not in sound per se, but in the themes it explores. There’s no way a listener will be able to stay emotionally neutral throughout the listening experience.
BRZ - In one of the two singles that you already release, of the new album, “Tro, håp og kjærlighet” (Faith, Hope and Love), you tells us some great truths like:
“Can you believe in God when children want to die?
Can you believe in angels when they cut their own wings?
Can you believe Satan when it's the men of the church who rape?
Can you believe in prophets when all they see is the end?”
If our scene were not underground, these words would be seen as very serious accusations although they are true and this is what makes us different from other musical genres, don’t you think?
Stein - Yes, these are actually the opening lines of the entire album, and sets the tone for what you will experience. It’s of course easy to read this as a direct attack on the religious bigotry and as a peremptory indictment against blind faith, but this is also something that speaks volumes about the state of the world. It’s the brutality of merely existing. When these lines sink in, when you start to interpret and think about it… I mean, I can’t think of any bigger tragedy than a suicidal child. When purity and hope loses the will to live… When beauty destroys itself. There is no need to establish an “evil” presence outside of yourself – trying to blame external entities. We first and foremost need to confront the darkness inside ourselves.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many genres of music or other art forms that dare speak the uncomfortable truth and force the listener to contemplate to the extent that I do with this, but that is where Black Metal should be different from the mainstream musical expressions. This isn’t entertainment. I don’t do this because of status or fame, it’s not because it’s cool or tough, I do it because I have to. Because it’s necessary. If we don’t speak up, then who will?
BRZ – Some people think that these words and the feeling of an album like this is made by who not believe that the world can create good things but It’s the opposite. These words draw the attention of what is wrong to create something good, in my opinion. What you think about?
Stein - That is my goal exactly. Some people consider metal music, and especially Black Metal, to be destructive, amoral and juvenile. In some cases, that is true of course… But I try to lift this to another level, and to me it’s the only genre that is capable of doing this. “Anima Sola” is a dark album, the darkest I’ve ever made and perhaps one of the darkest albums I’ve ever heard, but it’s still so constructive in essence. It’s constructive because it makes you feel. It makes you think. And you need darkness in order to appreciate the light. Only death and loss can make life and love shine. It’s this duality between joy and sorrow that I revel in with this release. When I present this, as the ultimate darkness, it is not made to be destructive at all, rather it’s made as an altar on which to sacrifice yourself and build a new foundation. You need the sacrifice, the cleansing fire to rape the soil before you sow new seeds. Burning bridges can make you stronger, help you grow and find new paths.
When people say that Black Metal is nihilistic, it just makes me sigh… Nihilists doesn’t create. Just by doing this, it shows that I’m trying to bring something into the world. To shape something in my own image. Nothing can be more constructive or worthy of life than when you actually create.
BRZ – Some title tracks of this album are very poetic and create a sense that the bad is beautiful, like for instance “Alle hjerter banker ei” (All hearts beat one) and “Smerte, skjønnhet og Satan” (Pain, beauty and Satan). What were you thinking or going through when you wrote them?
Stein - Actually, “Alle hjerter banker ei” is better translated to “Not all hearts beat”. It’s kind of an archaic title. It speaks about the numbness we sometimes experience. When you’re dead inside but still trying to hold on.
It’s been a painful process. I’ve been working through a lot of demons with this album. For the first time I’ve opened myself up to be inspired by events, people, and happenings outside of myself. Earlier I’ve only been wanting to create based on what exists in my own bubble of control, but I let loose this time and accepted that you can’t arrange the whole cosmos around yourself no matter how much you try. And this powerlessness contributed to a whole new lyrical dimension.
I made this album because we need to talk about the darkness. We all have it. Some more than others perhaps, but it’s there. This album deals with loss, spirituality, family, love, friends and isolation. There’s parts of it that are outright suicidal and references self-harm. But that doesn’t mean that I advocate it, it’s just a reality we need to face. We shouldn’t hide these things. We shouldn’t hold up in our own fortresses without letting anyone in. It’s the easy thing to do, you never want to admit to weakness, but I think it’s necessary to put these things out in the open. I believe in making these things a public agenda. Because no matter how hard you’ve fallen, how much you’ve lost, and how few people you can relate to, you’re still not alone feeling that way.
Art in general, and Black Metal especially, is supposed to be about honesty and reality. A reflection of the artist and the society. Therefore Minneriket isn’t the usual elitist Black Metal band. It’s not about the warrior spirit, the strength or the opposition, it’s about what makes us human. I really believe in presenting the darkness in a straight-forward manner, because too many people try to hide it. I want to show the beauty of the dark, the intensity of these emotions and the honesty they convey.
BRZ – Some songs were written in English and others in Norwegian. When you write a song do you think the language will sound better or is it just what's in your head at that moment?
Stein - Norwegian really is the lingva sacra of Black Metal, and I could never make an album exclusively in English. Norwegian really has the possibility to be a beautiful and aesthetic language. There’s an abundance of artists who resort to English just out of convenience, because for a large amount of people it’s an easier language to work with. You need more skills to write good poetic lyrics in Norwegian, because most Norwegians are used to their language as something very mundane and profane since most art and music in the Western world uses English as the main language.
For me, the language depends on the subject of the song, and how best to present it. Often it starts out it in another language and I translate it later. Or sometimes I just get words or sentences into my mind, and have to use them how they appear. It has to feel right. Some of the lyrics on this album dates back all the way to 2004, but are now more polished of course.
I don’t think to myself that I will create this in a particular language in order to suit the audience, it has to be what feels right to the song. They decide, I just present them. It’s the songs that wills themselves out, so I won’t argue with how they want to be presented and experienced.
BRZ – The art that you already let us see is based in the blue rose that was created by Anna Marine for the two first singles? Why?
Stein - I had a firm idea about how I wanted the artworks for these releases. I needed three artworks that completed each other, and I made some initial sketches myself. First I was supposed to work with one guy but he did not deliver and subsequent I needed to get someone else. I was looking around at different artists who worked within the aesthetic style that I wanted, and finally found the amazing art of renowned goth artist Anna Marine (who has done work for the alternative clothing of Spiral Direct among other). I approached her with my ideas for what I was looking for, showing my very rough sketches and explaining the idea behind the music and the romantic approach to something as hard and fierce as this, and luckily for me she accepted the job.
This really is an album about beauty and darkness, and working with a more gothic aesthetic fits perfectly. The art for «An all too human heart» works on several different levels. First of all, it’s the anatomicly correct heart wrapped in barbed wire and pierced with nails, an obvious nod to the crown of thorns and the crucifixion of Jesus in Christian mythology. But we all have scarred hearts, it’s the destruction of what’s pure and innocent. The cold blue rose of “Tro, håp og kjærlighet” of course speaks about the beauty of melancholy and the thorns we experience.
The main artwork for “Anima Sola” will be based on the traditional catholic imagery as explained previously, with a matching colour pallette, but with our own little twist... It’s the soul which is burning forever, but is never entirely consumed by the flames. I use this both because of the religious connotations, but also because of the profound sense of loneliness it produces. The strength and torture of the one. It’s the war between spirits and matter, and fire as both a destructive force of nature and the kindle in your heart. They all compliment eachother and are intertwined with the lyrics and the atmosphere.
BRZ – Talking now about the early black metal and the music created by souls of Euronymous and Varg Vikernes, thinking that you were born in 1988, what do you remember about those times?
Stein - As most other Norwegians, I remember the headlines in the media. It’s part of the Norwegian cultural history, but it was still so small and of course it didn’t concern me back then when I was a child. The whole Satanic Panic of 90s Black Metal was mostly over as I grew up. But I remember the attention got big again when Satyricon released “Volcano”, Dimmu Borgir did “Death Cult Armageddon”, Vikernes escaped from prison for a short while and Gorgoroth did their infamous show in Poland. These events in the early 2000s really helped put the music back into the cultural mainstream. I think it was around 2001/2002 I started really getting into this kind of music, before that it was mostly heavy metal and punk rock, and about 2003/2004 I had my first synth creating dark ambient music.
BRZ - You belong to the new wave of Norwegian black metal, although you'll get a lot of the feeling from those first bands. What do you think about the bands that have distanced themselves from the genre and that nowadays do something more atmospheric? Do you think that they have lost the feeling with the age and that the same will happen to you?
Stein - Art needs to evolve. We can’t all be Iron Maiden and release the same album year after year. It’s important for artists to tread new paths. Minneriket changes with every album, and I’m glad to see others do the same. It might not be music that resonates with me, for example, I can’t stand what Ulver, Darkthrone or Ihsahn has been up to lately, but I applaud them for what they do because it’s necessary to push the boundaries even further. And we have to be honest here, you’ll never have the same drive and energy as you did when you were 15 years old with a rock hard conviction about how the world should be.
We might think we are free individuals, or as Black Metal performers and listeners, we rebel against the contemporary society, united in an individual revolt. That’s utopian. We live in a society that comes with an instruction manual from birth: there’s a set path you’re supposed to follow, with education, jobs, procreation, family, how you’re supposed to look, behave and think. And now there’s even a rulebook on how to create Black Metal. I don’t want that. I don’t think many of us do. And the fans for some reason wants us to conform to this blue print of the Western society, even telling us how we’re supposed to create our art.
You don’t rebel by wearing worn jeans and reading Bakunin, just as much as you don’t rebel by wearing a leather jacket and singing about Satan. How blind is it possible to be? Why would you think these things make you better – more interesting – or different than others? It’s like you’re an automoton, still pre-programmed to obey. So Minneriket is firmly rooted in the Norwegian tradition, but I refuse to be chained down and told how to create, look or sound. Like, there’s no spikes or corpse paint in Minneriket. And this new album is even mastered in Las Vegas... For some reason people even have an issue with that. I just don’t know how to communicate with people with such small minds.
BRZ – What can we expect from the your other two bands Blodsgard and Vakslen. Will they release something in the near future?
Stein - Rex and I have been talking about doing another Blodsgard album for a few years now. He has a lot of material and riffs ready, I think. I have been working on the lyrics, I actually started some of them before we released “Monument” in 2013… But they’re not done yet. I haven’t been able to find all the right words for this. It’s been an ongoing battle. But hopefully I’ll come to terms with it and be able to contribute to a new Blodsgard album.
Vakslen, that’s a good question. I Haven’t really talked to V about it in a few years. Don’t know if he still makes music? As you might understand, I’m not a very social animal… But it’s never been officially put on ice, so who knows what the future brings?
BRZ – You have your own record company Akslen Black Art Records. Do you plan to release work from other bands besides Minneriket?
Stein - I’ve briefly considered it a few times. Might arrange something with Livet Er Avlyst Records. but ABAR will probably only be for personal releases. I’ve used ABAR for both Minneriket and the dark ambient project V0id&Khaos.
BRZ – Thank you very much for this interview and for finish this interview I ask about what you are listening nowadays?
Stein - My pleasure. Lately I’ve been enjoying the “Songs of Love and Death” album by Me & That Man, great album with obvious nods to Nick Cave, Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen. Other than that, it’s a lot of Wardruna, Trelldom, Oslo Ess and Jokke & Valentinerne these days.