Nuclear Blast Records rep Loana dP Valencia knows how to make a Norwegian black-metal vampire talk: Lure him out in the sunshine and get some Mexican food into him, and he’ll spill the beans about everything from blood-storage techniques to the proper material for costume spikes.
As the Dimmu Borgir guitarist-lyricist strolls into East L.A.’s El Tepeyac Restaurant, the bells on Assumption Church across the street erupt in fury, sounding the alarm at the approach of God-foe. Silenoz betrays no fear, but in case of emergency Valencia has provided a refuge in Evergreen Cemetery two blocks down the street.
Though Silenoz is in the middle of a September week’s local promo obligations, his pale complexion shows no damage from SoCal rays. His indeterminately colored eyes register alert intelligence; his string of chin hair is cued a foot down his chest; he’s wearing ripped jeans and no makeup.
Dimmu Borgir are hyping a couple of big events. One is their first appearance on Danzig’s Blackest of the Black Tour, which hits the Gibson Amphitheater November 5. The other is the release of the 2-DVD, 1-CD package “The Invaluable Darkness,” whose main features include pancreas-rumbling, artfully staged live performances from 2007 in Oslo, at the Wacken Open Air Fest and in a radio studio, as well as typical road footage of the band boozing, clowning and shitting in a bag.
I plow into the mountainous Hollenbeck Burrito; El Tepeyac’s crazed proprietor (“I’m a dirty old man -- ask anybody!”) pours us complimentary shots of tequila; Silenoz obligingly knocks back the grog. And we search for the ultimate truths of the Metal Life.
* * *
Greg Burk: We’ll need a nap after this.
Silenoz: “I’m going straight to more interviews, but it’ll be fine. It’s rougher for albums. For the last album, I had to do 300 station IDs. Six, seven months a year you don’t really do much, apart from maybe writing some stuff. But once the album is out, that’s when the real work comes. Making and recording an album, for me that’s the easy part.”
I was looking at the video that’s on the bonus package of your last album, “In Sorte Diaboli,” and the engineer was saying there’s, like, 83 tracks . . .
“. . . on the intro alone. It’s like when people do movie scores, they have so many different sounds. Sometimes we use an orchestra, sometimes not, but the difference is getting more and more blurred between when it’s a man playing the keyboard and when it’s actually played by an orchestra. Sometimes it’s hard to tell. Everything on the last album is keyboards, made with software that can kind of trick you.”
“In Sorte Diaboli” sounded as if you were trying to connect to a broader audience.
“It was a lot more spontaneous, because it was written around the guitars instead of the symphony, just in the rehearsal room jamming stuff, which we haven’t really done for a couple of albums. I think it makes this album sound a bit more lively.”
Some of the stuff on “Death Cult Armageddon” must have been hard to reproduce live.
“Some of it, yeah, but at the same time, we’re the type of band that is divided into two parts. On the albums it’s the perfect side, but live it’s more about the intensity and the rawness, which I think is cool. Because what’s the point of playing live if it’s gonna sound exactly like the album? So I think missing out on the huge symphonic orchestra stuff live is made up for by the rawness.”
Nuclear Blast sent me the reissue of your ’97 album, “Enthrone Darkness Triumphant.” It seems there’s been quite a development since then.
“Back then it was like, in the rehearsal room, ‘You got a riff?’ ‘Yeah. You got a riff?’ It was a more juvenile way of songwriting, straight to the point. If you didn’t make a song in one or two days, you’d start all over again. Now it’s like, in a matter of two weeks, you still don’t have two songs.”
Your albums sound different from one another. Are you always trying to top the last one?
“It’s really coincidence. We never sit down and plan what type of album we’re going to make. We just get together and put music together, and if we like what we hear, we keep it. If we don’t like it, we scrap it. It seems to be working for us.”
Are you bringing riffs to the sessions, and everybody else does the same?
“There’s three alpha males in the band. It’s us three that bring stuff to the table.”
Then I’m surprised all three of you are still alive after over a decade.
“We have some bruises!”
What are the requirements when you have to get a new member?
“He has to play his instrument well, and be dedicated. It’s a difficult situation, because when we tour, we have to live together. I’m sure we’re not the easiest people to live with.”
Who is? If you’re stuck with anybody for that long, it’s bound to be tough.
“But the older you get, you learn to understand and give each other space. It’s normal to have fights and arguments. If not, there must be something wrong, especially with three alpha males.”
There wouldn’t be any excitement in the music, huh?
“Never a dull moment with us.”
When you started the band, some black metal was in existence, but it hadn’t become as huge as you’ve helped make it.
“We did help open the door to that genre, although honestly, we’ve always been more than just that term, ever since the beginning.”
People are always wanting you to be “pure.”
“What’s the definition of pure? Is it something that you do because it’s coming from the heart, or is it something that you do because other people expect something? If we would make music that people expect from us, there’s nothing pure about it.”
Did you hear the new Metallica album, “Death Magnetic”?
“Yeah, I heard it a couple of times. People expect more and more; their expectations are getting higher and higher.”
People complained about their last album, “St. Anger,” which I actually liked.
“They didn’t have to do it, but they did it because they wanted to.”
This time, it seemed they were trying to please themselves and their audience at the same time.
“As long as you please yourself first, and the audience likes it as well, I would say that is a successful record.”
What was the “P3 Sessions” footage of Dimmu Borgir on “The Invaluable Darkness”?
“It was a radio-show filming in front of 80 people. On the same disc there’s the Wacken Festival, which was 80,000 people.”
In the “Diaboli” documentary, you talked about realizing the hypocrisy of religion at age 6. What was the event?
“My family was not religious, but I lived in the Bible Belt. I still kind of live in the Bible Belt at home.”
I didn’t realize they had one of those in Norway.
“Trust me, they do. So for me to interact with all the kids at that same age . . . Every Saturday I went to -- they didn’t call it Sunday school, they called it Saturday school, because it was on Saturday.”
“After a while, I got treated differently, because I wasn’t present as many times as the other kids. And that’s when I understood that just because these kids are here more often than I am, why are they so much better than I am? That’s when I realized it’s just a f*ckin’ hoax, you know? If that’s what religion is about, then count me out. It’s supposed to be about ‘Let all the children come to me.’ Apparently that was not their agenda.”
I see a lot of kids in the United States getting into black metal who have a feeling for the vibe of it, the politics of it, and the radicalism of it.
“The extremity of it.”
But some of them are just in it for the dress-up. They like the costume aspect. But I bet you were really an alienated kid.
“To some extent. As a kid it wasn’t that bad. But when we were in high school and really got into music on different terms, I started dyeing my hair and wearing black clothes . . .”
You dyed your hair black, I assume.
“From blond to black, overnight.”
You’re a natural blond?
“Oh yeah. I’m pretty Hollywood.”
Maybe there’ll be a black-metal movie one of these days that’ll break through.
[Silenoz frames a theater marquee in the air.] “’From Blond to Black.’”
Great title. And you’re an actor of a sort. I bet people don’t realize how hard it is to play guitar with all that stuff on.
“It was actually a lot worse when we started playing live, because everything we wore was totally authentic metal -- spikes and everything. It was really heavy. I remember when we started playing, it was like, ‘Man, someone has to carry me onstage, because I can hardly walk.’ I was like a robot. And of course we hadn’t rehearsed with the gear on, so once we were onstage we had the guitar AND the gear. Like, ‘What the f*ck, how are we supposed to play now?’ It was kind of like ‘Spinal Tap.’ We clattered onstage.”
[Loana inquires:] How did you adjust? Did you just take the gear off?
“No, we just poured more blood over it. Authentic blood. We always went to the butcher’s to get it. We’d have two three-liter bottles, and the butcher came from the back with the bottles filled with blood, and the bottle was still warm, because he had tapped it straight from the animal. Seventeen years old. It was killer.”
“After a week, it started to smell if you didn’t use it all.”
It should have lasted a week if you kept it in the refrigerator.
“Well, that’s the problem -- we didn’t. It started to turn yellow, and we opened the top, and, like . . . ‘Whoa. We can’t use it for this evening. We’ll have to get a new supply.’”
That would be really hardcore, if you used rotten blood. You’d be kind of crossing over into death-metal territory, though.
“Proper death metal. The stench of death.”
Who makes your stage outfits?
“The spikes, a friend of ours back in Norway has built them. He used to work with an airplane mechanic. The metal is titanium, so it’s really light. And it’s really sharp, it stays like that.”
You can’t get too close to each other onstage, I take it.
“It’s our anti-stagediving gear. But the current stage clothing is made by Todd Waters of Junker Designs right here in L.A. He does everyone from Steven Tyler to Britney Spears, but he loves to work with us, because he’s extreme, and he loves extreme stuff. The plan was to actually get human skin ordered from . . . I’m not gonna say what country, but that was the plan, to incorporate partial human skin in the leather tops. People are still asking us, ‘Do you have parts with human skin?’ And I usually say, ‘No comment.’” We also have a friend in Florida that has done some armor for us. He’s a good friend of mine. He looks like a total Viking. He always says, ‘It doesn’t make sense that I live in Florida.’ No, it doesn’t. Get your ass over to Europe.”
You can’t wear armor in Florida.
“You can’t wear clothes in f*ckin’ Florida. But you do have bigger cows over there.”
You’re a big metal band, but you do everything on such a huge scale, I can’t imagine you’re not millions in debt.
“Well, it costs quite a lot to do an album. That’s why we go to Sweden all the time, because it’s cheaper there, and they know more about knobbing all the instruments. Our first album was recorded in Norway, and we were not happy about it. For the third one, we went to Sweden, and after that we’ve been working with Swedish studios. Sweden has always been ahead of Norway when it comes to musical history in general.”
Is Sweden a more prosperous nation than Norway?
“They gave more support to the culture and scene in Sweden in the early days than they did in Norway. Now they’re doing it in Norway too, but it always has to happen somewhere else before Norway can adopt it.”
I think of Norway as being more radical.
“A lot of people say that Norwegians are so friendly and open. It’s a total lie.”
Did you especially work on learning English?
“Not really. In Norway, you learn English from second grade. It’s mandatory.”
But it takes an aptitude.
“For 10, 12 years I’ve been talking just as much English as Norwegian, because of the band.”
You don’t make a separate album with Norwegian lyrics, right?
“No. We used to. The few first albums were completely Norwegian, but then there was an EP where we changed to English, because we thought we would reach out to more people and we’d have a bigger chance of getting signed to a foreign label -- which happened.”
You guys work like MFs. Every time I see a band that’s successful, I know that’s what happened. It’s not an accident.
“It’s not overnight, at least.”
It’s a huge risk, too.
“Especially for us, since we come from such an expensive country. At a point, we had to choose: Do we keep our day jobs to play music, or do we just try and live off noodles and jam for the next couple of years, and hope for the best? And that’s what we did. And even if you do hard work, you need luck.”
[Loana catches me looking at Silenoz’s tattoos, and says there are museums of tattoos: To preserve the art of the tattoo artist, people donate their skin. Silenoz likes the idea.]
“I’m open to being a donor.”
You could have a card that you keep in your wallet. Do you mind if I look at your tattoos?
“No, of course. [Pulls up his sleeve.] That’s my favorite. The demon is reading the Bible, and you can see the expression on his face, he’s kind of mocking it, laughing at it. And here’s Jesus Christ getting impaled.”
He doesn’t look like he’s having a really good time.
“No, he’s having second thoughts right there. He’s like, ‘Did I do the right thing?’ This other one is not finished yet, but it’s more like my lifeline. It starts in the fire . . .”
So there you are as an infant or embryo . . .
“And I’m getting saved from the abyss, right here, the hand grabs the fetus, and then this is the lifeline going all the way up here. You can see this is my mouth, my eyes, my hair -- I’m getting older, you know? And this is like, half man, half machine, to try and symbolize how we as humans live. And up here, everything’s gonna go up in flames. The final piece is the mushroom cloud.”
So -- from fire to fire.
“Coming from darkness and going to darkness.”
But fire produces light, too. You know what Lucifer means, he’s the angel of light.
“It’s all about fire.”
You say you’re in the process. Is your tattoo guy back in Norway?”
“This is a Swedish dude that does this art. He’s extremely slow. It takes me like five hours’ drive every time. During the winter I can’t go over there, because there’s too much snow on the road. I’ll have to wait until spring for the next round. Of course I can drive over there, I’ve got spiked tires . . .”
“Real metal spikes.”
You could just wrap some of your stage clothes around the tires.
“All the nails that I use onstage.”
It’s dark for driving, too, isn’t it?
“There’s no street lights at all. And there’s a lot of animals crossing the road. It’s easier to go hunting with your car than with a gun. You could just sit by the side of the road and wait, just keep the gas going.”
What kind of animals?
“Moose, in the eastern parts of Norway. You can spot bears in mid-Norway and up. Mostly moose. Every week almost, in the paper, you read that someone hit a moose.”
And both died, probably.
“Most likely, yeah.”
So this is your first time on the Blackest of the Black tour. Did you listen to Danzig when you were a kid?
“I probably liked him more with the Misfits.”
I wouldn’t have thought you were old enough for that.
“Oh yeah. I started at the age of 7. Six, seven years old is when the transformation started.”
Do you have a family?
“How could I have a family? I have two dogs -- two Pinschers -- so that’s my family.”
I bet they miss you when you’re on the road.
“I’ve got someone to take care of them, but once I get home, it’s like, I just embrace them.”
I hope they recognize you.
“They always do. Last time I came home, one of them pissed itself, it was so happy. Pssss!”
Some people think that when you’re living in a place where it’s gray all the time, and there’s a lot of rain, it kind of encourages depression.
“It might have something to do with it.”
Do you feel more cheerful when you’re in California?
“To me, it’s too superficial here, especially in L.A. So one week is fine, but I don’t think I could live here. Inside Hollywood, that’s not a place for me, I know that for sure.”
You see all these people in costumes down on Hollywood Boulevard by the Chinese Theater -- you could fit in for a while.
“Oh yeah, yeah. Halloween is coming up, too. We should probably just keep the costumes on all the time.”
SILENOZ PIC BY ALEX SOLCA.
PIC OF DIMMU BORGIR TOURING BAND BY VANESSA DECAMPO (LEFT TO RIGHT: BASSIST I.C.S. VORTEX, LEAD VOCALIST SHAGRATH, TOURING GUITARIST CYRUS, SILENOZ, TOURING DRUMMER DARAY, KEYBOARDIST MUSTIS)
EVERGREEN CEMETERY PIC BY GREG BURK.