Keep of Kalessin
Interview with Obsidian Claw
Kalessin is a name derived from Le Guin’s fictional realm Earthsea, a saga dealing with magic, dragons and related lore. How and when did you get interested in fantasy and why did you choose this particular name and attribute for the band’s moniker?
I’ve been interested in fantasy and science-fiction for as long as I can remember. I wasn’t exactly old when the first Star Wars‘ movies swept across the globe. Even though I didn’t watch those movies until ten years later, I played with the action figures when I was only a few years of age.
Is your pseudonym, Obsidian Claw, and the others related to the saga’s mythology? What does it mean and what was the reason behind its choice?
The names of the other members are not taken from these books, but at least mine is somewhat related. Obsidian Claw actually means Black Claw, or a claw made out of black glass volcanic rock; it also has some spiritual meaning.
During the first ten years, Keep of Kalessin was more of a project than a real band. Was it your intent to have it as such for a while or what did happen that caused this shift?
It started out as a two-man project with me and Ghash but then, after a while, we had some songs and wanted to play live. As the years went by, live shows have been more and more important to build a band and I also love going on tour and playing live, so it was a necessity to have more members.
After a demo, an EP and three albums, the band is now heralded as one of the standing and greatest of the Norwegian roster. How do you feel about it and to what do you think your resilience and tirelessness are owed to?
It feels good to finally be recognised for the work I’ve put into this band, of course. But I also think that it wasn’t until I really saw that it was possible, and I set my mind to it, that things really started happening. I was constantly held back by other members in the past, but this time I thought “fuck it: I can’t wait around for the others”, so I set my own pace and if they didn’t follow they would leave.
As far as the releases go, I can only say that we were always a band of great potential, but personal differences and goals, and also budgets and lack of support from the outside, made it impossible to really nail that potential on an album until Armada!
On Reclaim you worked with Attila Csihar and Frost. How was it like and why did you pick both, in particular? In addition, how do you like their work so far and, since you also play live with Satyricon, do you think that experience has helped you establish Keep of Kalessin as a band?
When I was making the demo for Reclaim (programming drums and so forth) I always had Attila in mind; this was, in fact, a couple of years before I joined Satyricon. I love his voice and I knew that it would sound amazing with his vocals on my new songs. When I got the job in Satyricon, I met Attila on tour, and then when I came home I sent him an e-mail asking him to help out on this EP. He was reluctant at first, but when he heard the material he immediately agreed. Frost and I had been jamming a bit on Satyricon rehearsals and, when I asked him, he immediately said yes. We all knew at the time that this would be just a project and an EP and we didn’t think much about what would happen after that.
I think the fact that I’ve played live with Satyricon has helped me see the business better and, of course, got me a lot of live experience. But the most important part has actually been the fact that I saw it was possible; I saw that I could do whatever all those other bands were doing. It gave me belief in myself and in my abilities!
Speaking of which, you and Steinar Gundersen (Satyricon’s leading live guitarist) were arrested in Toronto three years ago, facing a sexual assault charge with a date-rape drug. Apart from what was written in the press, what did actually happen? In retrospective, how do you feel about the incident today?
I wish not to speak too much about this but, of course, there were unfair allegations towards us, as we never did such a thing! The charges were dropped and it’s all behind us now…
I find Armada to be the most your most achieved opus to date. However, I was quite bewildered to know that you consider the band to be inspired by Trance music, but not in a typical sort of way. Would you care to shed a bit of light on this? How did you approach both composition and pre-production duties and from where did you draw inspiration (both lyrically and aesthetically)?
Armada is inspired from all kinds of movies: fantasy, science-fiction and, of course, big epic war movies like Braveheart, The Lord of the Rings, Gladiator, Alexander and a lot from The Chronicles of Riddick. I listen to a lot of Trance music and my favourite groups are Infected Mushroom and Astral Projection. I think the atmospheres they create are very similar to many that we make. I am inspired by those but, instead of putting it directly into the music like many other Metal bands do – which sounds like shit, by the way – I think it’s better to incorporate stuff like that, indirectly, to capture the atmosphere of it, instead of adding the instruments (if you know what I mean).
You played at Trondheim’s Jazz festival last year along with Monolithic. Given the fact that several of your arrangements are quite Jazz-driven, how did you like the event? Would you consider it again?
The initiative was taken by Monolithic. They are both students of Jazz and they both loved Armada. We immediately agreed because we thought it sounded like a really cool project, however, we were touring and didn’t have too much time to prepare together with them, so I think we could have done much more interesting stuff. But, for our part, it was merely to play our songs and then do some of the stuff we had planned together with them. Actually, I hope we can do something like this again and make it even more interesting than what it was. Even so, the gig was a huge success with hundreds of people standing outside in line – still after it was sold out!
Plans have been made to shoot a conceptual video piece out of a song from Armada. Is the idea still being considered?
My head is always full of ideas and some I tell to others and some I don’t. However, being a pretty small band sucks when you have all these visions that you want to realise. We are nowhere near the budgets that would be needed for a video like I want it to be, but we’ll see what time brings – although for now, the focus is on the new album.
Would you agree that Norwegian Black Metal seems to have come full-circle in terms of standard-settings – both musically and visually? How do you take what bands like Manes or Ulver have, progressively, been doing since their inception in contrast with what projects and bands of your ilk have reinvented, such as DHG, Satyricon or Thorns? Ultimately, how did you feel about both Emperor and Immortal returning after such unequivocal contrary statements given in the press years before?
Emperor and Immortal are probably the two best bands in the Black Metal genre today, so I welcome their return! I think too many bands are trying too hard to be experimental or sell records these days. Look at Black Metal ten years ago: everyone was focused on the atmosphere and that sold albums!
I think too many bands experiment because they are empty of good ideas and I think Rock ‘n’ Roll-based Black Metal bands are trying too hard to sell albums by slowing down the speed and intensity to make it more accessible. What sells Black Metal is the true atmosphere of it, which only a few bands still have (yes, I know it’s impossible to sell the same amount today, but that taken aside).
Any plans for the short, medium-run?
Look out for the next Keep of Kalessin album to hit the stores in April or May 2008! It will be a new masterpiece of epic, extreme Metal! You can also watch studio reports and many more at our homepage shortly. After that, we hope to see you on tour! Cheers!