Affiliated With the Suffering
CoC chats with Harald of Bloodthorn
by: Jackie Smit
Whether everyone gives their shift in musical direction a thumbs up or not, Bloodthorn circa 2006 are a very, very different beast from the band who released _In the Shadow of Your Black Wings_ nearly ten years ago. Once a promising exponent of good old-fashioned Norse black metal, recent offerings have stripped away the corpsepaint, the keyboards and practically every other "kvlt" earmark in favour of an in-your-face sense of aggression that puts them on a par with the likes of Behemoth and Belphegor. Their latest effort, subtly titled _Genocide_, takes their blistering sound to the next extreme, proving to the world that European death metal doesn't have to copy _Slaughter of the Soul_ verbatim. Bloodthorn's bassist, Harald, took a half an hour out of his otherwise busy day to chat with me about member changes, new record deals and why it's taken the band five years to release another album.

CoC: Listening to _Genocide_ and the resolute steps that you have taken toward further solidifying yourselves as a death metal band, I'm sure that there are still some people who are surprised that you decided to move away from the slower, blacker work you had put our previously. What sparked this decision way back when and what's kept you on this path?

Harald: Well, it was a completely natural thing for us, really. It wasn't ever a decision that we made; it just happened for us. I think for the fans -- they probably see it as a slightly more drastic step than it actually was. We started writing the heavier, more aggressive material as soon as we got off tour for _Onwards Into Battle_, and for us the music just took a natural turn in that direction. The songs were much harder, much faster and the lyrics were also far more aggressive and brutal. Don't get me wrong, the idea was always to take the band in a heavier direction after _Onwards..._, but we never meant for it to become a full blown death metal band. I think it probably also had to do with the fact that while we were writing this material, we let our keyboardist and our female singer go. So maybe not having them there explains that it was more natural. We had some keyboards on our last album, but nothing on the new one.

CoC: So the fact that the new album is so much more organic and straightforward, is that indicative of the fact that you feel more comfortable playing this style now?

H: I think so. Again, after _Under the Reign of Terror_ we also lost our original guitar player, Tom -- the guy that actually started the band. So we spent about a year where we weren't even rehearsing, because our other guitarist [Alex] at the time, who was from a band called Aggressor, lived in France. Then he decided to quit and we found a new guitarist. In the meantime, myself and our drummer started rehearsing for a more thrash-oriented project, and as it turns out a lot of what was meant for that ended up on _Genocide_. So when we got the new guitar player [Ihizahg], that got us back on track. This is more his style anyway, so he was able to write a fair bit and contribute quite a lot to what we wanted to do. There was no masterplan behind everything for sure. <laughs>

CoC: Did Tom's decision to quit the band come as a surprise to anyone of you?

H: No, it was clear that he had lost interest. We had spoken to him before and he just didn't seem keen on doing anything with the band at all anymore. But we had to wait for him to make the decision.

CoC: I guess you can't just kick out the guy that started the band.

H: <laughs> That was precisely the problem. I think eventually he saw that he wasn't going to put anything more into this band and that we were all fired up and ready to go and actually wanted to put more work into it. It wasn't something that he was interested in, so he said that he'd quit so that we can keep on. There was no animosity or hard feelings. He still comes to our shows and stays in touch.

CoC: Has he given his opinion on the new album?

H: Yeah, he liked it. He thought it was very brutal and very good. Actually the last song on the album, "Sacrificial Slaughter" -- he and I wrote that together right before he left. So it's like his last testament.

CoC: What made you decide that Ihizahg was the man to replace him?

H: He played with a band called Perished, which is where our drummer is from as well, and initially we were a bit hesitant to bring him on board. We were afraid that the two bands would start sounding the same, but when we tried him out he quit Perished and it was a no-brainer. He's a very skilled and technical guitar player, probably more so than Tom is, and him being in the band helped us all to be able to play much faster and more technical. There's also not a lot of very good guitar players around here. We certainly couldn't have another guitarist from France.

CoC: That's interesting, because the perception from the outside is that Norway is absolutely flooded with musicians.

H: The scene really isn't all that big at all, and the people that are there are already in bands. We needed someone who could concentrate on the band full-time. We had to have a person that was on the same level personally and mentally as us and who grew up on the same sort of music as we did. There are a lot of younger guitarists here who are skilled and technical, but they grew up listening to stuff like Dimmu Borgir. That wasn't what we felt would be the right background. We wanted someone slightly older who had grown up on the older thrash and death metal stuff.

CoC: You were almost done with _Genocide_ when you signed your new deal with Morningstar Records, which is quite an unusual way to get things done.

H: Yeah, well we were mixing the album when the guy who started the label [Keep of Kalessin's Arnt O. Grønbech] approached us. He hung out in the studio and he listened to what we were doing, and basically he told us that he was starting a new label and that he wanted to buy the rights for our album for Europe, and that way the first release on his label would be with a band that already had an established name and he wouldn't have to start from scratch in that sense. So he, together with some other guys, bought the rights for our album in Europe from Red Stream, and actually in that sense we're not directly signed to Morningstar. They bought the options for our album in Europe from Red Stream. So we're the first release for them, but we're not a new band and they're definitely going about doing things the right way. They already had distributors lined up even before they bought the options, and it's definitely been in our interest to work with them. They're doing a great job and they're very professional. I think that they can go far.

CoC: So recording this album -- outside of the member changes -- was it a fairly similar experience to your previous visits to the studio?

H: Far from it. Firstly, we recorded the album in our home town, which we hadn't done since 1998. The last two albums were recorded in Sweden and France, so this was quite a different experience for us. To be at home and not be away when you're at the studio definitely made the experience very different. Then when we were about to do the vocals, our singer had some problems with his throat, so he had to stop working and go for surgery. He hadn't had any problems with this previously, and the doctors didn't really know what was wrong, so they gave him loads of medication and that basically laid him up for a couple of months. The album was supposed to be out in February last year. We went into the studio for the first time in August 2004 and then, when we were going to do the vocals, our vocalist had his problems and that delayed things considerably.

CoC: What did you get up to in the downtime?

H: We worked with our new guitarist, and made sure that we were up to speed. We want to be able to play live more this time around, so I think that the downtime helped us prioritise a lot of things and it helped us gain a lot more focus on what we want to do with the band. Actually I should also add that this new guitarist only came on board during the time while we were waiting for the vocals to be done.

CoC: With Krell's throat problems, was there ever a concern from you that Bloodthorn would possibly lose him as a member too?

H: No, the big concern was how his voice would sound. We were worried that he wouldn't be able to do the deep stuff or the screams, but fortunately it's been working out well. He had some pain and discomfort in the beginning, but he's been taking it easy and getting into it gradually, not putting too much strain on his voice.

CoC: Did all the frustration that you were experiencing during the recording of this album have an impact on how it ended up sounding?

H: <laughs> It probably made it less aggressive. We were frustrated, but it makes you want to work harder and accomplish more. It makes you want to make it work. It was definitely hard to have to postpone releasing your new album for a year.

CoC: Now that you've had the new material floating around for a while, are you satisfied with how it turned out in retrospect?

H: Definitely. We're very pleased with the album -- the sound, the production and the songs. We all feel that it's a very complete album, and I think that this is definitely what we want to be. In fact, it may even be better than we hoped it would turn out. We're probably getting a little tired of these songs, because we've lived with them for so long, but it's great to be able to play this stuff live and we're hoping to go on tour this spring. We actually played some of the songs off the new album live about three or four years ago already.

CoC: What are your touring plans for this year, now that you mention it?

H: Well, first there's the Inferno festival in Oslo. It seems like there's going to be a big tour in the spring, but that isn't confirmed yet, so I can't say too much. It will include Europe and the UK if it happens. Then we're going to the Wacken Festival, which is going to be highlight for us. It will definitely be the biggest show we've ever done. We may also tour again in October, but I'm not sure about any of those details.

CoC: Having come from the scene that Bloodthorn started in, I'm curious to know what attracts you to the death metal genre moreso than black metal?

H: I think the music itself has more to offer. I think I speak for most of the other guys in the band when I say that black metal has outplayed itself a bit. There are still some good death metal and thrash metal albums coming out, but I don't hear too many good black metal releases anymore. I don't want to step on anyone's toes here of course, but you know we all grew up on death and thrash and it's honestly the stuff we still listen to. That's probably why it feels more natural to us. The aggression and the brutality of death metal is just so much more appealing to us than black metal. There's not the same connection with a black metal audience that there is when you're in a death or thrash metal band -- it just stirs up the audience so much more.

CoC: Well, thanks very much for your time.

H: Yeah, and thank you. Like I said, we're going to be on tour very soon and hopefully people are going to come out to see us.

(article submitted 26/4/2006)


ALBUMS
2/27/2006 J Smit 8 Bloodthorn - Genocide
8/12/2001 A McKay 8 Bloodthorn - Under the Reign of Terror
11/17/1997 S Hoeltzel 7 Bloodthorn - In the Shadow of Your Black Wings
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