Interview: Dødsengel (2021) / From The Bowels Of Perdition

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When it comes to songwriting, every Dødsengel full-length has always been surprisingly different and broader in scope than its immediate predecessor. That being said, compared to Imperator, Interequinox showcases easily the biggest leap in quality between two consecutive Dødsengel efforts, in spite of being almost three times shorter. Would you say this is a fair assessment?

Kark: I see where you are coming from, and I definitely agree. I feel that we have always been a band that has a very eclectic style with a very broad spectrum of moods and atmospheres, and that becomes much more clear with every new release. I would describe Interequinox as a very compact album, with absolutely no deadweight. The splits with Nightbringer and Hetroertzen does bridge the gap to a certain extent, but the leap to Interequinox is immense, even compared to those.

Obviously, the main difference between the last two albums is that those lengthy meditative ambiental passages from Imperator had been put aside to make space for 60 minutes of focused, guitar-driven black metal. Did you have that in medias res mindset even before you started writing Interequinox and were you aware that Interequinox would end up being something completely different immediately after Imperator was finished?

Kark: It was very clear from the start that we wanted to do something different. But that is always the case. Imagine sitting down to write a new album with the mindset of wanting to write an album identical to the previous one. That does not make much sense, to me at least. We want to build and add to our past. The core of our work is expanding, but we are still at the center of it. We knew that we wanted it to start at the center of the storm, in a manner of speaking. We did not plan to make shorter or more to the point songs either. This was just the way the material spoke to us, and we listened. I do also think that Interequinox is our most complex album to date, actually. It is much more compact, as mentioned, and the contrasts within are at their peak, with the emotional dynamics as well. And the technical aspects of the song structures have never been stronger or more complex for that matter, yet it flows in a very natural way. The structural complexity of it might not reveal itself until you study it in a more technical way, as most of us listen to musick with our soul more than with our intellect, in a manner of speaking.

Is writing songs that bring something different to the table and have their own two feet to stand on something you consider particularly important? Were you consciously striving to inhale a completely unique mood and energy into every single one on Interequinox, given how mutually contrasting they are?

Kark: It is incredibly important to us that each and every song has its own personality and set of traits, while still retaining traits that make them a part of the whole. I would say that if you could take any riff and put it into any song, and it would fit perfectly, then you are doing it wrong. There is simply not enough variation if that is the case. To me, there can be infinite amounts of variations and moods coming from one single thought or emotion. It is all about the perception of it, and absorbing it on as many levels as possible, and finally putting it into a musickal form that can be perceived by the outside world.

All the different singing techniques you so convincingly employed in order to deliver the lyrics with the unsettling feeling of urgency are probably the single most impressive thing about Interequinox. Was it difficult to come up with such complex vocal arrangements and sing in so many different ways practically simultaneously?

Kark: Thank you very much, it is deeply appreciated. First off, I must stress the fact that the voice has to reflect the musick. That is the essence of it. The musick we create would not work at all with a singer that only has an on/off switch. The emotional palette of our art is ever expanding, and the voice must follow that. It is never meant to be an exercise in showing off a skill or anything like that. And with this being a very natural process, it is also for the most part not hard to switch between the various voices, as they reflect the mood of the musick that surrounds them. The real technical challenge lies in training the voice to such an extent that you can use it as an extension of the mind, and make it reflect your vision and artistic intentions as closely as possible to its most abstract internal form. To make it manifest as it should. The voice is the most unique instrument there is, in my opinion. It has infinite possibilities, and the sound that comes from it is yours, and yours alone to make. It should be trained and developed and not just used.

There’s something mysteriously beautiful about the front cover of Interequinox, that is as difficult to decipher as the title of the album itself. Consequently, the correlation between the two feels even more perplexing. Would you care to explain all those things?

Kark: Interequinox deals with the gaps in between aeons. It takes you on a journey through destruction and confusion, and the search for the core of the aeon that is to come. Each song represents a different stage in this search, and you will find yourself surrounded by ghosts and the shattered remains of what once were along the way. They will tell you their story, and they will sing you their song. You just have to listen, and feel it resonate deep within. Allow it to be the scrying mirror to your own inward journey, and explore! I know what the artwork means to me, and how we see it in context with the lyrical and musickal theme of the album, but there would not be much of a point revealing that. Actually, that might ruin it for the listener, as it would narrow the interpretation down substantially. The listener’s interpretation should be his or her own. But I can tell you that in this case, the artwork came before most of the lyrics and theme, but in the process they found each other, and complement each other in the most wonderful way, as every aspect mirror each other. Be it musickally, lyrically or visually.

There are opinions that slightly better production could have enhanced the listening experience of all your albums, Interequinox included. How would you respond to that kind of constructive criticism, in case you would even deem it constructive?

Kark: In my opinion, if someone simply states that the production could have been better, then that is nothing more than a whine. Maybe, just maybe, I could see it as an opinion, but not a particularly valuable one. It does not describe anything at all, and it is of absolutely no help in any regard. I also think people often confuse the terms better with different, and taste with the truth. It is certainly not constructive criticism, at least not to me. For it to be constructive, it would have to give some clue as to what kind of change has to be done to make it better or different. It is worth adding that it is a particularly strange thing to say, I feel, since this style of musick has its roots in being anti good production. And adding to that, I think it makes little sense to be conservative to what is a set sound to be expected from a black metal album. One of the most important things this particular genre has taught me is that the production is as much of a creative aspect as the musick in itself. It taught me that it does not have to have a certain sound in order to be good enough. Imagine giving Transilvanian Hunger the sonic traits of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. It would completely alter the perception of the material. But would anything actually get better, or would it just be different? I guess it comes down to confusing the terms, and forcing subjectivity into a form of objective truth.

Adding to that, I do feel it is worth mentioning that there are lots of things a listener can do to enhance the listening experience for oneself, if he thinks the album needs a bit more or less of something. Things like having a proper stereo, and learn how to use the bass, middle and treble knobs, and last but not least, the volume knob. I know I never listen to an album with the exact same eq settings, and if I want more or less of something, I use the aforementioned knobs. I also appreciate albums that open up when you turn up the volume. That is a part of the magick of older records. Too many records these days scream at you before you have even touched the volume knob. I subscribe to the theory of Hey, it sounds good! Turn it up! rather than I love this record, but I have to turn it down, as it is causing ear fatigue at my preferred listening level. But that is just me.

When you contemplate what kind of sound you want for your next recording, do you allow yourself to get inspired by the sound of some other albums and use their sound as at least a vague guideline?

Kark: I do of course get inspired by other releases. They do indeed work as a reference to a large extent, but not in a way that I try to copy anything. They work as a reference to how the sound affects the atmosphere, and how that adds the depth of another dimension to things. They taught me to create my own atmospheres, rather than copying, you could say. But one has to once again work with what is there, and follow the natural direction of the material.

In Palindrome you impeccably harmonized three essentially different melody lines, carried out by the opening riff, the opening solo and the opening vocal sequence, by simply blending them together. How did you pull off something so smart so effortlessly? Do you consider that song one of Interequinox’s highlights?

Kark: Well, thank you very much. That particular bit could be referred to as the sum of all my blues and soul influences, really. And then, of course combined with the vocal phrasings similar to the many great divas of the world! As for the album’s highlights, I do of course love all the songs on it, for many different reasons, but I think Rubedo and Illusions are obvious choices for me. They have such a large emotional palette, and take you through so much in a relatively short amount of time, that they do give the soul a bit to chew on, I think.

Among other novelties, Interequinox introduced the new Dødsengel logo. Why did you feel it was important to make that change?

Kark: If a logo change pulls the rug from under people’s feet, then I would hardly think they could cope with the changes and developments in the musickal department as well. We thrive on change and development, and why should that be limited to just the sonic offerings?

The fact that Dødsengel is a duo, by the very nature of things, implies a strong personal bond between M.A. and yourself. Apart from being your bandmate, do you consider him a close personal friend as well?

Kark: Simply put, the foundation of this band is built upon our friendship. When I first met M.A. a whole new world opened up for me. I remember being completely overwhelmed by all the bands he showed me, and all of the other stuff he was into, be it movies, art, philosophy, etc. He had, and of course still has, an immense faith in my abilities as a musician, and challenges me in all the right ways. Both of us are Thelemites, which connects us on another deep personal level. This is also the core center of our lyrical themes and works as the common denominator for all of our works, and it is our approach to life, love and art in general.

Speaking of life, love and art in general, it’s the circumstances that determine who we are as people that also influence the way we feel about those things. When you look back at your childhood and adolescence, do you think that, had you lived a different life during your formative years, there’s a chance you perhaps wouldn’t have ended up being what you are today, a Thelemite, mastering engineer and a black metal musician?

Kark: There have been many situations that could have lead me into many different directions, for sure. It is of course impossible to tell, but without sounding too abstractly clichéd I think it would have been the same, yet different. I am not comfortable in creative and artistic situations where I have to conform. All I can say for certain is that I would not be happy unless I were in a place of complete artistic freedom, which is what I think that all creative individuals should be eager to find.

There are more splits and EPs than actual albums in the band’s catalogue, which speaks about your undeniable fondness of smaller formats. On the other hand, it seems that Dødsengel shines the brightest when there are no length restrictions to hinder your creativity. With the exception of Circumambulations Of The Solar Inferno split with Nightbringer, it would be probably fair to say that neither of your other EPs or splits was nowhere near as well-rounded as Mirium Occultum, Imperator or Interequinox. Would you subscribe to this notion?

Kark: The splits and smaller releases have been very important, as they have filled a sort of gap in periods between albums, and we could be creative within the context of a smaller concept. We still have some tracks that will be released on similar releases in the future, so there is still more to come from that department. But with how things are now, I feel more and more happy in just doing our own full-lengths. Personally, I really do not feel as much of a need to do smaller things to gain a new creative perspective for bigger concepts. With that being said, we do have ideas for smaller releases still. But when I say small, it is only small by our own standards. We have grown so much over these years that our focus, and what we create will follow that. Adding to that, I can tell you that all our releases are as long as they should be, and therefore, in a sense, they are equally long. Nothing will be left unsaid.

Interequinox was released for French label Debemur Morti. Before that, you had spent many years with Terratur Possessions in what seemed to be a fruitful and healthy relationship. It’s interesting and somewhat surprising, however, that you made that transition right at the time when Terratur Possession was starting to take off and gain some serious momentum in becoming one of the most important underground black metal labels around. Why did you decide to close that chapter at that particular moment in your career and did you end your cooperation with Terratur on good terms?

Kark: We signed to Debemur Morti in 2013 I think. He made us a great offer and it seemed like the next logical step for the band. Everybody is happy with how that turned out. As simple as that. Debemur Morti is now our main label, which will release our full-length albums, yet we still have ties to several other labels, concerning other releases. Terratur Possessions is no longer our main label, but we still have stuff coming out in the future there. Be it old stuff that has yet to be released, and old stuff in new formats. I still do mastering work for some of his releases as well. He does a fantastic job with the label, and his achievements speak for themselves. We are extremely proud to be a part of that.

Musicians often say that they write music for themselves, that fits their taste and attention span. Is that the case with Dødsengel? If so, when you feel like listening to something heavier, what makes you decide that some of your own music would actually be more to your liking than some landmark metal album you spent your entire life listening to?

Kark: I guess you could say that the target audience for Dødsengel’s musick are the two individuals of the band, yes. The added bonus when listening to one’s own material is the fact that the emotions and memories connected to it are very much different than that of someone else’s work. It is a well known fact that musick triggers memories, both of the mind and of the senses, and this becomes very potent in a very unique and different way when it is your own work. You are re-living something that you have been a part of creating since the first seed was sown. It is a part of you on a much deeper level than anything else can come close to. The feelings might be just as strong coming from something else, but it will always be different. So if I choose to listen to something of my own, then this is the reason for doing so. It is a different experience, and one that I am very glad to have at my disposal.

What was your first encounter with black metal? How much the way you feel about those albums changed over the years and would you say that they mean more to you now than back when you first discovered them?

Kark: Mayhem was my first meeting with the genre. De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas is an obvious one for sure. Wolf’s Lair Abyss is also of big importance to me as well. Most of the releases coming from the majority of the Norwegian bands for sure. I know that is not a very specific answer, but it would take a whole lot of time for me to name them all, so there is not really a point in doing that. True love grows stronger with time, I think. It is not a passing fancy. Black metal did not really make all that much sense to me when I first heard it, to be honest. But there was something very special about it still, that I felt needed further exploration, and it was well worth it. It will always retain a somewhat abstract character to it, which leaves plenty of unexplored nuances. And yes, it does indeed mean more now than it ever did, and it will most likely continue to do so.

How much importance do you place on labeling your music, or any other music for that matter?

Kark: In my opinion, labeling the musick is pretty much pointless, unless we speak of the only useful labels, which are musick I like and musick I don’t like. I think that labeling has robbed people of lots of listening pleasure, to be honest. Imagine not allowing yourself to listen to a black metal band with synths, because you have a perception of black metal being only guitars, bass drums and vocals, and then only browse through the no synths section. Labeling is a limitation, which prevents further discovery. It is useful in the grocery store, so that you won’t confuse milk with bleach, but that’s basically it. One should be careful with too many specific labels when describing all works of art. Use a proper description, instead of using just one word to sum it all up.

Necrowretch frontman once described their sound as the way Sepultura would have sounded had they never gone thrash after Morbid Visions, or the way Death would have sounded had Chris Reifert stayed in the band after Scream Bloody Gore, or even the way Merciless would have sounded had they released something together with Sarcofago. Could you describe Dødsengel by making a similar comparison?

Kark: If Mayhem, Richard Wagner and Pink Floyd merged, and gave birth to a musickal baby, then it just might be called Dødsengel.

As a fan, do you prefer albums with only a couple of truly memorable tracks or albums that don’t have any real highlights but only a decent overall feeling?

Kark: Both can of course be appreciated in their own unique right, but if I had to choose, then I would prefer an overall decent feeling. One can sometimes confuse weak tracks with growers. That has happened to me countless times. It is about having the proper tools to be able to appreciate and understand it. There have been countless bands and genres that I used to find utterly appalling until I had matured enough to really understand them, both emotionally and intellectually.

According to pictures that can be found online, your hometown of Ålesund looks like a beautiful, magical place. Is its appearance deceiving or is living in it as lovely as the town itself?

Kark: The fact that Ålesund is our hometown is not quite correct, but close enough. We both come from different small towns close to it, which are much more rural and secluded places.

Looking back at the history of Dødsengel, you have always marched to the beat of your own drum exclusively, with complete disregard to what everybody else was doing and what was fashionable at any particular moment in time. The two of you never stopped looking like two lone wolves, that refuse to adapt or belong to anything. Does your lonesomeness have anything to do with the fact that you are the only notable black metal band to ever come from Ålesund?

Kark: I think that has been, and still is, a very positive thing that we are basically alone with what we are doing, geographically speaking. There was not a scene of any sort, really. At least not where I come from. This really gave us a chance to explore and develop our art by ourselves. I think that is a wonderful position to be in, really.


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