Abbath: My Life Story
Abbath is a giant of Norway’s globally ￼renowned black metal scene. Born in a town that actually makes metal, it would seem his destiny was a foregone conclusion
WHEN AND WHERE WERE YOU BORN?
“I was born in Odda [Norway] on June 27, 1973. It’s a four-hour drive from Bergen. It’s an industrial place where they would make zinc and another type of metal. The only industry that’s still going in Odda is the zinc factory. But it’s a very beautiful place, actually.”
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR FAMILY AND YOUR CHILDHOOD?
“My mother was a nurse at the hospital there and my father was a military chief, and he also did some teaching at high school. They moved there in the late 60s but both of them are from the Bergen area. I have no brothers or sisters. It’s only me! We moved to Bergen in ’82 when I was nine, but we spent most of our holidays at my grandparents’ farm, which is 30 kilometres south of Bergen. I can’t complain about my childhood. I had lots of friends and it was pretty good.”
DID GROWING UP SURROUNDED BY BOTH INDUSTRY AND BEAUTIFUL SCENERY HAVE A GREAT IMPACT ON YOU?
“I’m in love with Norwegian nature, you know? I love the mountains, the fjord and everything. I grew up with that. The countryside is my place.”
WHEN DID MUSIC BECOME AN IMPORTANT PART OF YOUR LIFE?
“It started when I discovered Kiss! But before that it was all about Elvis Presley. I remember when I was five years old, there was only one TV channel in Norway and they showed the show Aloha Hawaii. I had my parents wrapped around my finger, so they would let me stay up and watch it, because it was on after midnight. I was so amazed by the performances. Then there were bags of candy and sometimes they would have football cards in them and other times they’d have musicians and artists in them, and that was how I discovered Kiss. I still have those pictures!”
IS IT SAFE TO SAY THAT YOU BECAME OBSESSED WITH KISS?
“Definitely. I collect Kiss memorabilia and old Kiss vinyl. The fascination with that band will never stop. It has been a very big part of my life. When I was a kid I had pictures from magazines everywhere and I hadn’t even heard them yet! They just looked like gods, like supermen with instruments. One day my father came home with Destroyer on cassette. We moved to Bergen not long after that and a friend of mine had some Kiss records on vinyl and that was just amazing to me. The first time I saw the TV commercial for Alive 2 and I saw Gene Simmons breathing fire, I was like, ‘Wow! I wanna be him when I grow up!’ You know what it’s like when you’re a kid, and you wanna be a fireman or a policeman when you grow up? Well, I wanted to be that fucking demon!”
WAS IT FRUSTRATING TO BE IN NORWAY, ISOLATED FROM THE ROCK AND METAL SCENE?
“We were starved of rock’n’roll in a way. Now you can go on the internet and find out whatever you want, but back then we would buy a magazine and see a commercial for a bunch of metal albums and we would have to buy them all! We had to know, which one was good and which one was not? That was our life and it’s still the only thing I know.”
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO FORM YOUR FIRST BAND?
“Something happened when we discovered bands like Slayer and Manowar and Venom and Motörhead. There was something happening in the music in the mid-80s. We discovered Celtic Frost and Bathory too, of course, and when I hooked up with Demonaz and we decided to start a new band together in 1990, I had a clear vision of what we wanted to do and how we should look. In 1988, me and a couple of friends of mine, we got money to buy instruments. I bought a bass guitar and a little amplifier and my friend bought a drumkit and another friend bought a guitar and we started rehearsing. I’ve been doing it ever since that day, May 17, 1988. That was my first band, Old Funeral.”
IMMORTAL ALWAYS SEEMED TO STAND APART FROM THE REST OF THE NORWEGIAN SCENE. WHAT DO YOU THINK MADE YOU UNIQUE?
“The evil side of what we did, that’s always been there, and it came from Venom and Bathory, and the rock’n’ roll feel to what we did has always been there too. It all just developed. It was a form of escape for us. Demonaz and I just clicked together and we created our own world. Bands like Mayhem had their thing, but we were on the west side of Norway doing our own thing.
YOUR EARLY RECORDS ARE REGARDED AS BLACK METAL CLASSICS, BUT YOU MADE YOUR BEST WORK WHEN YOU STARTED TO EVOLVE AT THE END OF THE 90s.
“We grew as musicians, basically. We worked with [producer] Peter Tägtgren too, and that really helped. When we made At The Heart Of Winter, Peter helped us to become more professional and head in the right direction. The unfortunate thing was that Demonaz was no longer able to play with us [due to being diagnosed with acute tendinopathy], but he kept writing our lyrics.”
YOU SPLIT UP AFTER SONS OF NORTHERN DARKNESS IN 2002, WHICH WAS YOUR BIGGEST RECORD. WHY DID YOU STOP AT THAT POINT?
“We felt we needed a break. We didn’t have management and the spirit in the band wasn’t right so we didn’t feel like continuing. We took a break and said we would wait for the right time to come back. It took a few years. We didn’t plan it, but it was the smartest thing we could do.”
YOU MADE BETWEEN TWO WORLDS UNDER THE NAME I IN 2006. DID THAT MATERIAL REIGNITE YOUR ENTHUSIASM FOR IMMORTAL?
“Definitely. The I material was Immortal stuff which didn’t work with Immortal at the time. Working with Ice Dale [Enslaved/Audrey Horne guitarist] was fucking great. We also had Demonaz working with us. I was just figuring out what the fuck I should do. It was a difficult time, but working on that album really helped.”
WHEN IMMORTAL RETURNED IN 2006, THE REACTION WAS HUGE. DID THAT TAKE YOU BY SURPRISE?
“I was surprised by the offers we were getting for headlining festivals like Wacken. There was a very different reception from the audience after all those years. I really felt like people missed us. There’s a new generation of metal fans now too. Without the internet we would never have been as popular.”
YOU BECAME ONE OF THE MOST REVERED BANDS IN UNDERGROUND METAL. DID YOU FIND IT EASY TO LIVE UP TO EXPECTATIONS?
“When we started Immortal, black metal wasn’t even thought about by anybody. The Florida death metal scene was popular at the time but that wasn’t the way we wanted to go. We wanted to do something different. There is something missing in the music scene today. It’s hard to explain, but we were doing it our way with no rules. We never had any rules in Immortal. We didn't follow any ideas of what’s popular.”