By Sean Palmerston
During the early to mid-nineties I lived in Toronto, Ontario. I moved there in 1991 to attend York University for a BA in Geography (I later switched to Canadian History) and I spent almost all of my free time trying to soak in music. I sat in for a few years on a radio show on York’s CHRY-FM called Apocalypse Now, hosted by my dear old pal Spencer Mak, and sometimes I would stay even longer and hang out when the guy known as Danko Jones did the overnight show from 2 AM till 7AM.
Through doing this show Spencer was offered to take over Aggressive Rock on CKLN- FM in downtown Toronto, the first metal/punk radio show in Eastern Canada to play Venom, Slayer, Metallica, etc on the air back in 1982/83. Up until 1992 it was hosted pretty much full time by Brian Taylor, known better to many for working at the Record Peddler (THE mecca for buying metal imports in Toronto in the 80s) and for producing bands like Sacrifice, Razor, etc. After ten years Brian only wanted to do it once a month, so Spencer got the gig and, after a few months, invited me along to co-host. That was 1993.
By 1995 I was doing a lot of the shows myself, every Saturday night from 10 PM till midnight, right after a crazy dub reggae show. The first 15 minutes of each show always consisted of the phone ringing off the hook – dudes in the Don Jail that wanted to hear Metallica, Slayer or Venom before lights out for the night, or their buddies/girlfriends calling in asking to pass messages along with a request for one of those bands (and the odd Bathory or Celtic Frost request). I must admit it got a little nauseating, but for the most part we would always try to fit them in.
Around that same time a local Toronto metal scene guy named Dragan “Ed” Balog was running the North American operations for a Swedish metal label called Black Mark Production. Balog had been around the scene since the late 80s, he played bass in a local thrash band called Downfall and also had his own company called Utopian Vision Music that had put out some compilations. He was, and still is, a great guy and whenever he had one of his European acts come to North America for press junkets, it usually started out in Toronto before going onto NYC or LA.
Early on in 1996 Dragan gave me a call and said he had Quorthon of Bathory coming to Toronto and that he was pretty sure it would include a Saturday night in Toronto. He wanted to know if I would have Quorthon on the show on the Saturday in question, that I could have a living legend of underground black metal in the studio for two hours to ask him whatever I wanted. Of course, there was a new Bathory release about to come out, the excellent Blood On Ice album, and that was the whole point of the visit, but he did assure me that Quorthon would be willing to discuss the history of his band.
Really, how could I say no?
Bathory was one of those incredibly mysterious, multi-faceted bands that helped shape the Swedish metal scene. The first appearance by the band was on the Scandinavian Metal Attack compilation, which proved so popular that they went in and recorded the first two or three albums in succession in a garage in Sweden. The set up was crude, the songs were fast, loud and Satanic in nature and when that first Bathory album came out it was one of those albums that caught the attention of the underground. The albums came out on a number of labels, including Combat Records in the USA and Banzai Records in Canada and were held in the same kind of admiration as Hellhammer/Celtic Frost although this was from Sweden, where most of the bands at the time were much more traditional metal fare until Bathory’s arrival.
Bathory was also a band that changed dramatically. While the first few albums were very raw, speedy, thrashy black metal, by the time 1988’s Hammerheart came out, the sound became more epic, more influenced by Vikings and Pagans than Satan, and the vibe on the albums were more war metal than black metal. It didn’t really deter fans, if anything by that time the popularity of Bathory was growing even more in the metal underground. That Bathory essentially seemed to be a one-man project that never performed live helped grow the mystique even more. By the mid 90s Quorthon had released a solo album that was much more rock influenced, as were the last few Bathory albums before Blood on Ice (those being 1994’s Requiem and 1995’s Octagon). I didn’t connect with those albums, but Blood On Ice, an album that had been shelved and finally released, was (and still is) quite excellent.
It was arranged that on the Saturday in question I would meet up with Mr. Balog, Mr. Quorthon (who told me to call him Ace) and the owner of Black Mark, who went by the name of Boss, and that we would go out to dinner at a local restaurant on Yonge Street, the Pickle Barrel, before doing the show. Now, we all know these days that Boss was actually Ace’s dad, and that he basically had started Black Mark to put out releases by his son’s band, but at no time did Ace or Boss ever come across during the six hours we spent together as being related. It was apparent that they were, as Quorthon did look similar to his dad, but they dressed very different.
Boss looked like a fifty-something Swedish father. White hair and a beard, he looked like he could be a businessman on holiday as he was dressed very casually, but you knew right away that Quorthon was a rocker. He just didn’t look exactly like what you thought the guy that penned “Equimanthorn”, “Through Blood By Thunder” and “A Fine Day To Die” would look like – unless he also had also been a member of the Cold Lake lineup of Celtic Frost. I was struck immediately that Quorthon looked a lot more like a hair metal dude than one of the forefathers of black metal – cowboy boots, ironed jeans and a black muscle shirt. I think after years of seeing him standing in a pentagram in that famous press picture I just didn’t expect him to be a sort of funny guy, who really liked to call almost everybody by the same name: Frank.
Quorthon and I ate the same thing at our dinner together at the Pickle Barrel. We both had quarter chicken dinners. I was hoping he’d have a really bloody rare steak, but it was BBQ chicken for the both of us. Shortly after we finished up, we ran across the street to the HMV Superstore at 333 Yonge Street, where Quorthon and Boss went looking around while Dragan and I met up with some of my friends that would regularly hang out with us down in the basement studios at Ryerson University where was CKLN broadcast from. The crew that evening included (fellow Hellbound scribe) Kevin Stewart-Panko, current Exclaim! editor Chris Gramlich and his then band-mate in the Toronto band Tchort, bassist Nick Sewell.
After a good half-hour at HMV the group of us went over to CKLN and down into the basement dungeon, er, studio, to do the show. I cannot comment if the two-hour radio show that evening was a good one or not. It flew by pretty fast as I was not only interviewing but I was also running the mixing board at the same time. I do know that Quorthon, his dad and Mr. Balog were in the studio with me for the entire 120 minutes and that we played a lot of the then still-unreleased Blood On Ice along with lots of other great metal (mostly from the 80s although I did play some Emperor for Quorthon, which he seemed to kinda dismiss), but there were also some very weird things that happened – at least they were peculiar to me.
Quorthon was very adamant that I could not play anything on the radio off the first three Bathory albums. Absolutely nothing. I had brought all of my Bathory albums, which was basically everything up until Requiem, and he absolutely flat out refused for me to play anything off the first three albums. He said they made him feel uncomfortable, and he said that the people of Canada would be much better served if a song from The Beatles or the classical composer Wagner was played instead of anything from Bathory, The Return or Under The Sign Of the Black Mark.
He also would not sign any of the first four Bathory albums for me. He was very happy to sign Hammerheart and Twilight of the Gods for me, on which he wrote “To Sean From Quorthon” with an ink pen (he wouldn’t use a silver sharpie), but when I asked to get the ones before those signed he had decided that was enough for that day. Boss gave me an autographed copy of Blood On Ice that day too, but Quorthon just said “sorry Frank, I don’t want to sign anymore right now” and that was that.
I also came to a point in the show where I really had to go to the bathroom. I guess the beer from dinner had caught up with me, because I had to take a piss. I asked Kevin Stewart-Panko if he would take over for me and ask Quorthon a few questions while I ran to the bathroom, which he agreed to, but much to my surprise Boss was having no part of it. He said to me very diplomatically that he really liked me and thought that I was doing a wonderful job interviewing Quorthon about Bathory and that to have someone else jump in would do a great injustice to the interview. Kevin and I have talked about this over the years and we don’t know if they didn’t want Kevin to do it because he is half-black or if they just wanted me to continue doing it, but it was pretty weird in that studio for a few minutes. I ended up just playing an extra long song so I could run and wee and then continuing the interview myself.
When the show was done we parted ways. Dragan, Boss and Ace went one way and the rest of us went another. I heard from a few friends over the next few days that heard the show and said it was a pretty good interview, but to this day I have still never heard any of it. I am hoping that someone out there somewhere recorded it and that one day it will appear, but for now the interview seems lost forever and, sadly, Ace Forsberg has left this world for some other place, R.I.P.
I had intended to record that show that evening for prosperity, as I had a few months earlier when we had Fear Factory sit on the show – that’s another story better saved for later – but unfortunately the cassette recorder at the station did not work that week. Awesome! First North American interview by a European metal legend and we couldn’t even record it. Well, it was backed up on a VHS tape by the station, who had to backlog everything recorded on the air for 2 months due to government regulations, but when I asked to get a copy of it dubbed from the videotape I was told that the tape snapped 5 minutes into the show and, after they fixed it, it broke again 10 minutes later. I kinda figured that was some kind of sign and never bothered asking again.
All I have left now, some seventeen years later, is the memory of the interview that is still in my head and a few autographed CDs. By they way – no, they are not for sale, although I have been offered upwards of $500 for the signed Hammerheart CD by a collector in the past twelve months.