Interview with Garm
Review of the Metamorphosis EP
Review of Themes From William Blake’s ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’
Ulver Contact Info.
DR: How young were you when you started this band? What were the circumstances, and what were your intentions at the time? Are any of the original members still in
the band besides you?
The Wolfen Howl of Norway
Garm: We formed in '92; I must have been 15 at the time. Since the recording of our debut album, "Bergtatt", we've basically been the same people involved. Sadly, our long time companion Erik Lancelot (drummer and flutist) decided to leave after the Blake record, and one year prior to that we also parted with our rhythm guitarist Torbjørn Pedersen (aka Aismal). This sums up to Håvard, Hugh and myself being left of the initial pack.
Intentions are often very prosaic when so young; you want some kind of strong identity, to adhere to some other creeds. As I was into metal music at the time, the most extreme form of it—black metal—became the solution. It initiated me to the darkside for sure.
DR: Where did you get your excellent command of the English language? Does everyone in Norway speak as well as you? Why do you speak English in most of your songs? Is it to make it more accessible to people in other countries?
Garm: Thank you. My early childhood years were spent in Portugal where I went to English primary and secondary school. Since I communicated mostly in English at such an early stage in my life, things may have been made easier for me later. My grammar sucks, however. Most Norwegians know the English language pretty well since it is obligatory at school, but there are a lot of broken dialects out there. When seeing Norwegian political correspondents or journalist types out there in foreign affairs, I sometimes laugh myself near to death.
Ahem, back to the latter part of your question: When we were portraying the ambiences of old Norway we used to write in our own native language, or more specifically 17th century Danish/Norwegian tongue. We felt that such archaism was more fitting to convey these atmospheres, as they are intrinsically connected to the Baroque period and the "metaphysical" heritage from the National-Romantic school of thought. We were inspired by eminent writers from this school, like Welhaven and Wergeland, but also shit that came before them, like the psalm writings of Thomas Kingo and the philosophy of Ludvig Holberg. Some time later we had all of our writings transcribed into archaic English, thinking it would be cool to make our ideas comprehensible also to non-Scandinavians—who after all do constitute a large part of our audience.
We are now 'opening the doors of perception' further—taking in ambiences of a more cosmopolitan, or at least Western, nature. Among our current obsessions are cyber-culture, fashion, decadence and post-humanism. We believe that we now stand at the threshold of a new aeon now and that this form of civilisation has reached its peak. I guess we've become more apocalyptic in a sense. Whereas we earlier mainly focused on making musical portraits of bygone times and traditions, we would now apply any historical, literary or mythical interests we might have to more modernistic forms. To some extent the Blake record exemplifies this, but I think those few lines by Rimbaud on the EP felicitously encapsulates how I feel we are evolving. "We are moving towards the Spirit" indeed—the Anima Mundi. These ideas are of a more universal nature, hence the decision to write in English.
DR: What other endeavours are you involved in besides music? What would you be doing now if you hadn't become a musician? Do you intend to pursue other things in the future?
Garm: Well, I think we are in the process of extending the idea of what Ulver can and cannot be. Future interactions with other art forms is very plausible. Our next record, Perdition City, will be the first step in this direction. Also, we are at the moment employed by Norway's biggest multimedia corporation in order to comply with sound for their visual mediums.
If I hadn't become a musician I probably would have attended college to study some sort of anthropology, but as I mentioned earlier, music kind of sealed my fate. Nonetheless, I've been thinking of purchasing some decent photo-equipment lately, as I'd really like to document my fascinations with different ambiences pictorially as well. Furthermore, I enjoy occasional women and dancing. All this more or less fills my life, but I wouldn't have it any other way, and intend to pursue those wicked beats and sounds for a while to come.
DR: In a previous interview with Nordic Vision you were referred to as "a famous TV person." What did the interviewer mean by that? Garm: Ah, that is many years ago. He was referring to a program called "NRK samtid: Det Svarte Alvor", which was a documentary about black metal created in the aftermath of all the church arsons, murders and desecrations committed by its adherents in the early 90's. At that time we were pretty much among those adherents and I was asked to make some statements, which I subsequently did, along with Ihsahn from Emperor and some other people. Contrary to Ihsahn, who appeared only as a silhouette, I decided to confront Norway in a more stalwart fashion: I just stood upright and said some rather nasty things about Christianity and how the country was ripe for a pagan take-over, stuff like that. This was broadcasted on prime-time national television, and considering all the media-hysteria around these things back then, it was probably seen by 1/3 of Norway's population. We did some TV interviews later as well, but I have declined offers to speak on behalf of these things years ago. Many of our friends went to jail and w grew up. It's a done chapter. I still share some of these thoughts, but there is another dimension to the manner in which we project these now.
DR: What do your parents think of what you are doing? Are they proud of you, or just scared?
Garm: Why should they be scared? I remember my father thinking that appearing on TV was really great. He was letting any "worried" friend or family member know just how totally cool he was about his 17 year old son advocating such attitudes. He probably found the whole thing rather childish, but in some way he got a kick out of supporting me. What surprised me a bit was that my girlfriend's father actually had the same attitude. They don't harbour any strong feelings for Christianity.
My father no doubt sees value in much of that which I'm on about, but at the same time he's uttered some slight concerns about it not being the usual safe and sound way of life. He's smart enough to see that some things are far more important than steady income though. Himself being a daring and relatively successful man, he has motivated me to go my own way.
I guess my mother used to be a bit worried, especially when there were phone calls coming from police investigators and journalists at all hours, but she's also been supportive and trusting all the way. I have not been given any reason to let them down yet.
DR: How popular would you say Ulver is in Norway? What kind of influence do you think you've had over the years? Do you notice other groups starting to copy you?
Garm: Not extremely popular, but we are slowly starting to get positive responses from a wide array of the cultural establishment here. We haven't sold more than approx. 3000 units of the Blake record in Norway, whereas we've sold 16.000 abroad. Nonetheless, Norway is a small country and most people in the music business seem to know who we are. The album is currently being nominated for the Norwegian Grammy awards, and I have also been contacted for an interview in a rather big book-project on Norwegian fringe society, which of course is complimenting.
When we were still a metal band I reckon we exercised some influence on that scene. However, I don't think there are many of them who will want to follow us now. It would be rather strange if metal-heads suddenly were to give up their insipid lifestyle to follow us where we are heading. If I may: I think we have surpassed their perspectives by far. They're like: "What? You like the latest Marilyn Manson record better than Antichrist Superstar?" I just laugh a little. Yeah, "Metamorphosis" is definitely thename of the game we're playing.
DR: What do you think about the current state of the Norwegian music underground? Do you think that it's getting more sophisticated or more interesting? Do you think that your band has had something to do with that?
Garm: Well, if you're referring to the metal scene I wouldn't know, as I have very little interest in what's happening there. But there are apparently a few bands with the same kind of background as ourselves who have taken big leaps lately, like for instance Dødheimsgard and their "666 International" album. They were probably a bit inspired by our use of technology, but managed to create something of their own with it, which is cool. Apart from that there are many excellent Norwegian artists, like When, Deathprod., Thule, Mental Overdrive, Biosphere, Palace of Pleasure, Euroboys, Monopot, Midnight Choir, as well as more highbrow stuff, like saxophonist Jan Garbarek's beautiful jazzy soundscapes.
DR: What is your involvement with the band Arcturus? What is the history of this band, and why are they named as such?
Garm: Arcturus is a prolongation of a '86 death metal band called Mortem. The name was changed to Arcturus in '90, and a 7" of very eerie synth-based music was released in '91, entitled "My Angel". I joined as their vocalist in '93 and became involved in producing and programming later on. We have since then recorded two full-length albums, "Aspera Hiems Symfonia", "La Masquerade Infernale" and a dub/remix CD entitled "Disguised Masters". We will make one last album with Arcturus next year, and it will probably be released through Music For Nations. I don't know why they picked the name Arcturus, but I must say I've grown quite fond of it. It's got both mysterious connotations and clings well to the ear, this radiant star of the Northern hemisphere.
DR: What other music groups are you involved in, either as a member or as a producer?
Garm: Only Arcturus. However, I have made guest appearances on many records ranging from retro-rock to hip-hop. I get involved in many of these things professionally, and don't feel that it is relevant to go into detail concerning this here. I used to sing for a band called Borknagar as well, but not anymore.
DR: In the past you have described yourself as a Satanist. What does that mean? What do you like about Satanism? What aspects of Satanic philosophy do you find worthy of proliferation?
Garm: I see it as an imperative to a more cunning, clever and creative existence. I guess you could call it a romantic way of identifying with volatile and disruptive forces. Anyway, I accepted the challenge to learn more about these forces some years ago and some sinister secrets were revealed to me. It's irrevocable, so I guess I'm down with the Devil now.
In terms of philosophy I enjoy contemporary Satanism for its many sharp and witty contemplations on the state of society and the human kind, as well as the individual striving to overcome any hindrances imposed upon by the aforementioned. I have little interest in being part of some black-clad group of bald people with goatees though. It just seems too convulsive to me.
DR: Are drugs a major factor in what inspires you to make music?
Garm: No, I wouldn't say that, but it has enabled us to see life from perspectives not known to the sober mind. This has no doubt affected our attitudes towards art, and maybe music in particular. You can definitely get some cathartic musical experiences when on drugs, and this may be used as an incentive later, but it's not like we take acid every time we make music. I'm rather cautious with psychoactive drugs these days actually.
DR: Do you consider yourselves part of some type of new artistic or philosophical movement? If so, what kind?
Garm: I find that rather pretentious. We set ambition before pretension, perdition before convention, and instinct before all. I'd say we are pretty much loners, but of course we try as best as we can to be interactive with the ones whom we respect and admire.
DR: Say, why the Hell do you call yourself "Garm"?
Garm: Well, Ulver means 'wolves' in Norwegian, and when we formed the band we decided to adapt these wolf names from the Norse mythology. Taking odd artist names was not untypical for black metal bands at the time, and the lycanthropic shit sort of became our trademark. Whether Garm is a wolf or not is dubious though. He's most commonly referred to as a hound guarding the gates to the Norse netherworld. However there is also mention of a ferocious wolf called Månegarm (i.e. Moongarm), and I think these two creatures might have been the same. The legends are not unambiguous. According to the Ragnarok-myth Skoll is the one who's supposed to swallow the Sun, but other places this is said to be Fenriz. Anyway, we were also thinking of using the names Jere and Freke, Odin's wolves, but in the end it was only Hugh (aka Skoll) and myself who took such pseudonyms, while the others chose other names. Today I use my alias mostly out of old habit, and I play around with the name, or at least the capital G, quite much. I migt add that I did take this name legally some years back, so it's actually my middle name. It's cool to have a Norse name I think. It makes me feel like a Viking.
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The first thing that strikes you when you open this CD case is the
lengthy disclaimer placed behind the plastic underneath the disc which
states that “Ulver is obviously not a black metal band and does not wish
to be stigmatized as such”, and then goes on to chastise those who might
be disappointed by this, requesting that they “please have the courtesy
to refrain from voicing superficial remarks regarding our music.” I
don’t imagine that this admonition will actually discourage any
disillusioned youngsters from speaking their minds, and I hardly think
that being considered one of Norway’s hottest black metal acts is
stigmatizing. Certainly I can understand that no one likes to be
pigeon-holed, but the truth is that if it weren’t for labels, you
wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between Comet and Parmesan cheese
until it was too late and you’d already ruined your pizza. But no need
to worry. There is no way that anyone who actually listened to this CD
could possibly construe it as black metal, or any kind of metal, as
electric guitars are virtually, if not completely non-existent. What we
have here is music that as far as I can tell is entirely electronic, what
the artists have called “techno/breakbeat”, which perhaps means its like
breakdance music, although I can’t imagine this being used as a
soundtrack to “Electric Boogaloo”, or anything. They also say that it’s
“on the verge of industrial”, although in my opinion they at times
stumble right over the edge. But when it comes down to it they really
have achieved their goal of making refreshing and novel music that defies
categorization. Ulver and their contemporaries will definitely be among
the new breed of the next millennium that forges ahead of familiar staid
music genres to create a badly-needed new paradigm. Catch on before the
bandwagon passes you by.
Buy Metamorphosis EP at amazon.co.uk
Themes From William Blake’s ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’
What we have here is a double-CD musical interpretation of one of the
most powerful pieces of mystical literature from one of England’s most
prestigious and illuminated poets (so illuminated, in fact, that he has
his own tarot deck and is considered a saint by the Ordo Templi
Orientis.) The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, a prose poem written by
Blake between 1790 and 1793, is part of a series called “The Prophetic
Books”, including The Book of Urizen, Visions of the Daughters of Albion,
and Europe, A Prophecy, in which Blake intended to invent his own
mythology and symbolism, because, as he once explained, “I must create a
system or become enslaved by another man’s.” In this particular piece
Blake develops his idea that “without contraries is no progression.” In
“The Voice of the Devil” Blake declares that, “Man has no body distinct
from his soul, for that call’d body is a portion of the soul.” He builds
upon the work of John Milton, resurrecting the Gnostic idea that the
Creator is an evil demiurge, “The Jehovah of the Bible being no other
that (the Devil Del) He who dwells in flaming fire.” Milton was,
according to Blake, “a true poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing
it.” In “The Proverbs of Hell”, Blake tells us that, “The road of excess
leads to the palace of wisdom”, that “No bird soars too high if he soars
with his own wings”, that “Everything possible to be believ’d is an image
of truth”, and that you should “Sooner murder an infant in the cradle
that nurse unacted desires.” In “A Memorable Fancy”, he declares that,
“The Cherub with his Flaming Sword is hereby commanded to leave his guard
at Tree of Life: and when he does, the whole of creation will be consumed
and appear infinite and Holy, where it now appears finite and corrupt.”
He further states that “If the Doors of Perception were cleansed,
everything would appear to Man as it is.” Later on, in Plater 22-24, he
tells us, “The worship of God is honouring his gifts in other men, each
according to his genius, and loving the greatest men best: those who envy
of caluminate great men hate God.” (Sounds like Nietzsche!) Finally, in
“A Song of Liberty”, he decries “Pale religious letchery”, which would
“call that virginity that wishes but acts not! For everything that lives
is holy.” This is the kind of thinking that could have gotten Blake
executed if he hadn’t lived in an era that had been pioneered by
Rosicrucians and Freethinkers, an era in which Masonry had been a
defining force throughout Europe and England. No mere open-mic poetry
night at your local snooty art café, this mystical attempt to comprehend
God is set to thundering hard rock chords and grating industrial
sequences, recited with the distorted electronic voices of præterhuman
intelligences. The eclectic mixture of style used include those
resembling Coil, Nine Inch Nails, Skinny Puppy, Einstrüzende Neubauten,
Nosferatu, Metallica and Megadeath, along with some lovely female vocals
and some other bits thrown in: experimental, ethereal, existential noise
art, and the like. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Buy The Marriage of Heaven and Hell at amazon.co.uk
c/o Voices of Wonder
PO Box 2010
Grünerlokka, 0505 Oslo, Norway