Varg Vikernes of Burzum served almost 16 years in a Norwegian prison for murder but when you interview him there are a few ground rules: no questions about family, political views or time in jail are allowed. All questions are forwarded to Vikernes in Norway via e-mail. Part of this is understandable; Vikernes is an extremely divisive figure and understandably wants to keep his privacy. At the same time, why would someone who has been outspoken on so many topics – particularly race and religion – avoid a chance to explain his views?
Vikernes is one of the founders of the Norwegian black metal scene and created a sound that has influenced countless bands. He is equally as well known for what happened when he wasn’t writing music. In 1993, he killed Mayhem founder and guitarist Euronymous and later went to prison. He was also linked to numerous church fires. The case was sensational in Norway; Vikernes became internationally notorious after the publication of the book Lords of Chaos, which explored the second wave of black metal in Norway and elsewhere.
Most of Varg’s statements and early interviews and can be found on the Internet so there’s no need to rehash them here. A Google search will direct you to his long and complicated history. Vikernes resumed writing metal after leaving prison, following Belus (2010) with Fallen, which will be released by Candlelight in April. The following are his answers to our questions.
What is a typical day for you like now?
Right now I am promoting the new album. There is little time for anything but work, work and more work.
Do you spend most of your time on your farm and the surrounding areas or do you ever get out further in the country? Do you even want to travel?
Yes, I spend most, if not all, of my time at home. No, I don’t want to travel.
Can you tell me more about how you write music? Do you work on riffs alone at home? Do you do most of your writing in the studio?
Everything I make is recorded on my PC, using a Gina 3G echo card and Tracktion 2. I then arrange everything into tracks. Finally, I write lyrics and then re-arrange the music, if necessary, to fit the lyrics, or vice versa. I only improvise introductions and conclusions in the studio.
All of your interviews are conducted via e-mail. Can you see a place in the future where you’d be comfortable talking to people on the phone and having a straightforward back and forth rather than answering questions this way?
Nah. I don’t want any more acquaintances than I already have.
What do you think of journalists and music writers?
I don’t think journalists and music writers make up a particularly homogenous group, but generally speaking I don’t like journalists and don’t understand why anybody cares to write about music. Maybe they do because they don’t want a real job (much like musicians)?
What do you think about the fact that your albums always seem to have disclaimers, i.e., writers will praise your music but make every effort to distance themselves from you?
Well, that’s their problem, not mine. I don’t care.
Do you enjoy doing press for albums and talking about your music or is it something you feel like you have to do as a recording artist?
It can be enjoyable, but it is first and foremost something I do because I have obligations to my distributors and label.
Were you surprised last year to see yourself in international magazines like Guitar World and not have the focus solely be on your past and your reputation even if those things were mentioned?
Not really. As suggested by the name of the magazine they are more interested in music than anything else…
How did you develop your relationship with Candlelight Records?
They have a deal with Byelobog Production, so you should ask them about that.
Can you ever see a time when you are known as Varg Vikernes the musician without all of the back story, hype and baggage? Or do you think the two are now inextricably linked?
They are probably inextricably linked, but I don’t think we should care too much about that. I think most bands are linked to pretty moronic and low-brow behavior, and I just killed a guy to keep my own (life) so… unlike most other musicians, I have nothing to be ashamed of. When it comes to the church fires I will simply ask you to talk about that to those who did it, and not to the person they blamed for their own crimes.
Do you think people won’t accept you as just Varg the musician because they are waiting for an apology for past events and statements? In the United States people are often given second chances if they publicly express remorse or contrition.
Well, I forgive them all for their ignorance. Men who defend their lives rarely have a habit of apologizing for doing so afterward. Do you really think I should apologize for killing a perverse self-proclaimed sodomite and devil worshiper with concrete plans to torture me to death, whilst filming the whole thing? I killed him when he attacked me. Sure, according to Norwegian law I went too far the moment he abandoned his murder-attempt and tried to flee instead, and I chased him down and slew him instead of running away like some coward, begging the useless police for help. Even his closest friends support me in this case. Sorry. You really need to wait forever if you ever expect an apology from me. I should be waiting for an apology from Norway, for her even by international standards criminal treatment of me.
Fallen comes almost exactly a year after Belus. To what do you attribute your renewed creativity? Is it simply the fact that you are now free and able to work as you please or are there other factors at work?
I am still me, unaffected by time – at least in this context.
Do you consider your music almost a linear narrative, i.e., does Fallen pick up where Belus left off?
No, they all stand alone, on their own two feet, so to speak.
In Fallen death isn’t treated as something horrible or something to avoid at all costs but rather something to embrace and cherish. I’m thinking about the lyrics: “Come death, dear death; give me the answer to all riddles, give me key and wand, unlock the world’s locked doors.”
Death is not a taboo in the aboriginal European culture, and was often seen as the answer to all riddles, to power and wisdom. You know, that’s why you dress up like ghosts and other creatures, which belong in the realm of the dead on Halloween (initiation evening); you are supposed to in order to gain access to the realm of the dead – and you need to wear a mask in order to see the realm of the dead. Only the dead or those who pretend to be dead are allowed access across the bridge to the realm of death.
This festival was an initiation, and one that was completed in the Yuletide, on what we celebrate today as the New Year’s Day. The latter was the day the initiates banished the spirits of winter by scaring them away, with flaming torches, screams, burning wheels and such in the night. And only then could summer and the strength of the Sun return… or so they believed.
The European world view is circular, and not linear; there is no beginning or end, like in the Judeo-Christian world view. No Eden and no Heaven or Hell. Hel is only a realm of the dead, where they rest until they return to life, like summer returns after winter, like growths in the soil return to the surface when the Sun regains her strength in the spring. Ragnarok is a renewal of what once was. And there is no beginning either. The belief that Ash and Elm were created from two pieces of wood by the gods is a (Judeo-Christian) misinterpretation.
There is no life without death. There is no death without life. If we depend on it to live, then why should we fear it?
Is our culture and world completely distanced from the idea of death as it was presented in classical mythology? Death in most ancient religions was presented as simply a gateway to something greater, another journey. Now people try to stay alive forever and there’s even talk about immortality via computers and technology.
Death is a taboo today probably because of religion and the fear of hurting and stepping on others who believe in silly things. All religions are based on sorcery and we are all to some extent superstitious. Children for example instinctively create rituals for themselves; to help them handle things they don’t control or understand (id est things they are afraid of). They calm themselves down by repeating the same behavior, over and over again, turning this behavior into small rituals. Man was in its childhood similar, and therefore developed sorcery as a lifestyle. If they didn’t do «this» the Sun would perish, they believed, and if they didn’t do «that» the Sun would not return after winter, and so forth. Eventually this turned into a religion, and this has dominated the mind of man through the ages.
If anyone expresses doubt or questions the rituals it is disastrous for those who believe in them, because it will then be harder for them to believe in the rituals. The result is that in the end nobody dares to speak about these things, out of fear it will ruin their own faith – a faith that as long as they have it gives them a peace of mind.
The fear of death that we see today is perhaps also a result of the fact that we no longer live in the present, and even those who know classical phrases such as carpe diem (seize the day), don’t very often actually understand them. The classical man knew that there is no past and no future outside of the present; only the present exists, and the past and the future exist only in the present. If you are able, like the classical man was, to really seize the day, id est truly live in the present, then you exist beyond time and you are already immortal!
Death in the classical pre-Christian era was but a renewal; a chance to start over again, with clean sheets. Death itself was a form of salvation; if you err too much in life, you can always chose death, and have the opportunity to start over again with clean sheets.
Does living in nature give you a greater appreciation for the cycle of birth and death you write about in Fallen?
I think nature is very much present in the towns and cities as well, and I am sure we see as much death and decay in the cities as we do in more rural areas, although perhaps not as much rebirth.
How much research do you do into the Norwegian myths you write about in your songs? Are all of the stories researched or do you draw from your previous reading and your own imagination?
Well, Belus was an album dealing exclusively with ancient myths and religion – and sorcery – and I would not have been able to write the lyrics for Belus had I not done as much research as I had before I made it, but Fallen deals less with these myths and focuses more on metaphysical issues, existential questions and the feeling of despair, and I don’t think you need much research to have an opinion about such subject.
Your screams have always been extremely powerful – where does that power come from? Rage?
Yeah, I guess so. From Wotan – and as you might know; Wotan; id est furor (Lat. “Wotan; that is fury”).
Have you always been interested in the native mythology of your country? Was this an interest that came from your family or did you develop it on your own?
Now, I wouldn’t call it “native of my country”. The ancient European religion was common to all Europeans. Anyhow; yes, I developed this interest myself, on my own.
Did you play all of the instruments on Fallen like you have in past releases? Where did you learn to play multiple instruments?
Yes, I play all instruments on Fallen as well. I am autodidact in this context.
Your riffs are often described as meditative and trance-like. Is your goal with music to put someone in a completely different mindset, to offer an escape valve?
Yes. I think the only true “magic” in our world is the one we can find in beautiful scenes, music, the written word and other art.
Like many of your other albums, the rhythm section of Fallen is somewhat muted and the guitar does most of the work. Is your music intentionally written this way?
It is, but I do think it is less so on Fallen compared to older works.
Can you tell me more about the choice of the cover art? It’s strikingly different that what you’ve used on past Burzum releases.
I understand that many think so, but I cannot see this. Anyhow, I chose this cover art because it fitted the theme of the album perfectly.
Is there a back story to Fallen? Can you elaborate on it?
Not really. You should take it the same way you take the pre-Dauði Baldrs albums.
What kind of equipment are you using on this release? It’s well known that you intentionally used low-fi equipment on albums like Filosofem to get your intended sound.
You can find a list of the equipment used on Burzum.org. I only included this list in the press release to avoid having to answer questions about which equipment I used for this recording. This topic is of no interest to me. I use whatever equipment is at hand and whatever works – and whatever is at hand usually works just fine.
Did you use any digital equipment when recording this album and if so what did you use?
We used a sample for the kick on the slow parts, but apart from this every instrument on the album was analog – recorded digitally.
Can you see a point in the future where you’d write songs in English again?
Perhaps. Maybe I will, just to spite Norway; the last Soviet state in Europe.
Do you read newspapers or watch television? You obviously have an Internet connection – do you pay attention at all to what’s online outside of your official Internet presence?
What do you think of today’s constantly connected media? For example, it’s given people easy and instant access to your music but at the same time it allows people to say whatever they’d like about you in a chat room under an anonymous name.
And they are free to do so; they obviously don’t have a life of their own, so they need others to leech on, in order to feel alive themselves. I pity them, but I also ignore them. Who cares what they write? I am sure we wouldn’t even notice if they were gone.
The Internet is a curse and a blessing, but I think it is not any different from most other things in this respect. Everything can be both a curse and a blessing. Cars. Telephones. Trees. Music. Computer games. Even food can be both a curse and a blessing. It is what we make of it. To me it is only a blessing.
Do you have or use a cell phone?
Nope. I plan ahead instead, and spare my head for at least some unnecessary heat radiation.
Your music is very popular among metal listeners in the United States. You’ve often criticized the country for things like overt materialism and suburban sprawl. Do you think people are seeking the ideas you put out or do you think they are attracted by your notoriety? Is it both?
Well, I think you Americans focus too much on my criticism of the USA, but I guess that is normal – and perfectly okay. I also do hope that the wisest amongst you – and I happen to know there are many of them – understand what I am trying to say. I don’t say something just to provoke, but I do provoke to say something. It is hard for me to know what attracts Americans to Burzum, but I can only hope it’s their good taste and their enlightened and open mind that does.
Mayhem still continues playing to this day with a cobbled-together lineup featuring your old friends Attila Csihar and Hellhammer. Are you in touch with either of them and do you pay attention to what they are doing?
Not really, but I guess I should. They deserve the attention. Unlike others in the scene, they have supported me from the start – possibly because they knew what a worthless individual this Euronymous character was.
Do you ever listen to your older electronic albums recorded when you were still incarcerated?
I rarely have the time to listen to anything at all, save unfinished Burzum music, and when I do have the time I tend to listen to The Cure. When I on rare occasions listen to old Burzum tracks I do like them, though, and would wish I had more time to listen to them.
What’s the biggest misconception about you as a person?
You tell me. I am not good at remembering what others say about me, or good at paying attention to such things at all.
The first time I read about you was in a book you have widely disowned. If I were to come have dinner at your place would I find someone completely different that what was presented to me?
You bet. You wouldn’t believe how many times fellow prisoners walked up to me over the years in prison and told me, as if they were in shock, how different I was from what they had been made by the media to believe – and I may add that every single one of them told me they were very positively surprised. Now, that might not be too much, considering just how negative the media has been towards me over the years, but still.
Oh, and I think you would have been surprised by how small the dinner plates are in Europe too.