Icelandic black metal has been gaining momentum for the last couple of years. I’ve been tremendously slow on following the development, the reasons being many, but it’s always easier to just blame it on the finnophile in me. At Wacken in 2012, I did manage to catch a band onstage that enthralled me. That band was Gone Postal, now transformed into Zhrine, backed with a compelling album that confronts and gives you a VIP seat as the world takes its terminal breath. The exploration of this transcendental piece of music, inevitably lead to an interview with guitarist Nökkvi Gylfason. Read on below!
First of all congratulations on the album release! From what I’ve read it seems that bigger media platforms as well as underground zines and blogs are taking a liking to it. How have you experienced the feedback so far?
Nökkvi: Thanks! It has been very positive I guess in general. I’ve seen various positive reviews, some talk about the death metal aspects of the album and others write more about the black metal aesthetic. The album mostly receives high scores and people really make an effort to go deep into the album. I haven’t seen a shitty review so far, so we’re really satisfied.
The album truly has some dense atmospherics, it almost appears as a conceptual piece.
Nökkvi: It’s written as a whole. There’s no Captain Ahab or whatever story told. We wrote the songs so that the album would have a cohesive flow.
So there are no themes being worked out in the different lyrics, or artwork for that matter?
Nökkvi: I wouldn’t say that, no. It’s for the listener to decide, really, to interpret.
You recorded the album at Studio Emissary with this Stephen Lockhart guy. How did you come to work with him? What’s an Irish doing up in Iceland anyway?
Nökkvi: I had met Stephen a couple of times before he recorded the “Flesh Cathedral” album by my other band Svartidauði. This guy really knows his stuff, he’s recorded many bands and he’s the only person I would trust to fully comprehend what this music is all about. It took us three years to complete the album.
Three years? Did you record in different sessions then?
Nökkvi: Yes, we had many sessions over a long period of time. Stephen is a busy guy and so are we in the band, so whenever we had time, we’d do a session, starting with the drums, the bass and so on. One session was even dedicated to weird atmospheric stuff, like the intro for the track “World” for example. I think from the first recording session to album release, it has taken around three years to make it all happen.
Before we started our interview, you mentioned the transition from Gone Postal to Zhrine, which is what I’d like to go into next. What actually did lead to the change of name and style?
Nökkvi: That’s a good question! I think it’s all about progression, really. We had been playing simple-minded death metal for some years and we all were already starting to expand into darker music tastes. It was a natural progression for sure. It wasn’t anything like “hey, let’s do black metal” or anything like that, the sound really just came to us and this is the result.
There’s still a very clear trace of death metal heard in the music. Might there have been some songwriting from the Gone Postal era that’s been transferred into Zhrine?
Nökkvi: You were at the Wacken gig in 2012. We played three or four tracks from the Zhrine album back then, stuff like “Empire” for example, and we played as Gone Postal, so something was already there back then that pointed to a darker direction. But there is a missing link in all of this. Two years before that, we recorded an album worth of material, but we scraped it because in the end we weren’t satisfied with the result, both production and with the songs as a whole. But that album had like a death approach with some black metal creeping in, whereas “Unortheta” is more black metal with a hint of death metal. We released three songs from this album, which we threw away, as a promo, and if you’re curious in hearing the development, I think you should check it out. It’s on youtube I think.
Staying a bit on topic, what was the purpose of the transition? Where there any goals set to achieve with this new monicker?
Nökkvi: Yes, you could say that. Playing in bands, you learn stuff and you develop your art. We wanted to create more atmosphere onstage. We bought opium incense and do small pyrotechnics, and infuse that with the music we’re playing, just building on creating a statement.
The next topic I’ve dubbed “Icelandic Metal”! Recently I saw Terrorizer presenting a playlist of Icelandic metal bands. Some are very obvious. Do you care to comment on that? What would be your recommendation for Icelandic metal that one has to check out?
Nökkvi: I think one band that was missing from that list is Misþyrming. I think I remember seeing Momentum there, great progressive/psychedelic music nowadays but they were also good when playing death metal. They have an EP from like ten years ago, titled “The Requiem”, that would be one recommendation. There’s also an Icelandic rock band called Mínus, they have an album titled “Hey Johnny” from 1999 or something, very sick noisecore, punk something something, it’s disgusting, you should really hear that one. Sinmara and Almyrkvi also get my utmost recommendation. Also Wormlust, you should check out the demo “Seven Paths”.
Alright, taking it one step further. The Icelandic metal scene has seen a lot of focus the past couple of years. How does the scene look from your perspective?
Nökkvi: It’s a small scene. It’s only a handful of people but these people know what they’re doing, it’s quality stuff. There’s not fifty bands releasing an album or a single song but rather a closed community, where many bands share members and write good music in different contexts at a steady pace. But yeah it’s a small scene. You don’t see Svartidauði or Zhrine playing much in Iceland. We had our first black metal festival this year, Oration Festival, like twenty years after the Norwegians hehe. It’s isolated here as well, it costs a lot to go abroad and play. You have to have a job and not depend on the music stuff as a career.
What about setups? Like labels and promotion agencies? Does this exist in Iceland?
Nökkvi: To a small extent yes. There are minor labels but it’s mostly the same people who are doing the music. The first Gone Postal album was released by a label that was set up the guys in Momentum. But otherwise there are not many options, there’s no need.
My next topic is Season Of Mist, which you are currently signed to and also the label that released “Unortheta”. How did you end up working with them?
Nökkvi: Let’s just say that they contacted us. It’s really that simple. It’s the best label for this kind of music, and it has really helped in getting our album distributed everywhere through them. I couldn’t imagine releasing this album on another label, I really couldn’t.
What do you think of the current state of music industry, like social media madness, artificial concertgoers and having the opportunity to record everything yourself and at almost any time?
Nökkvi: The world’s inborn nature has been lost. That’s a quote from the album. It’s a fucked up world. For me, I’m just happy to be able to take part in creating death and black metal here in Iceland.
Let’s say you start a band in 2016. First thing you do is to set up facebook, instagram, twitter and all that, before actually going really into the rehearsal room and create music. Care to comment?
Nökkvi: That’s utter bullshit! For me, the music has to do the talking. You can have the coolest logo, the coolest band name, twitter, facebook and so on, but if you don’t have the music to back it all up, you basically have nothing.
Regarding live performances, you haven’t really that much planned at the moment. You’re playing Maryland Deathfest next week, that I know.
Nökkvi: Yes, we’re playing Maryland Deathfest in late May. Also playing a show in London two days. There is a tour coming up in the fall and also some festival announcements coming up. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Since then, the band has confirmed a North American tour in november together with Ulcerate and Phobocosm, and is also scheduled to perform at Blastfest in Bergen, Norway next year in February).
In closing, what does the future hold for Zhrine?
Nökkvi: Besides touring, we’ll just keep on trying to perfect this sound. We’ve created our own sound and we want to expand on it.
For more info about Zhrine, check out their Facebook page here
“Unortheta” is out now through Season Of Mist
Extreme Metal Voyager review can be read here
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