DHG / Dødheimsgard

Bands - Musicians - Issue 20

HeartbeatInk Tattoo Magazine had a really interesting conversation with the Norwegian black metallers, Dødheimsgard, just before their Athenian gig. DHG has been both adored and hated form the black metal fans due to their intense and avant garde experimentations. We talked about their wonderful new record, “A Umbra Omega”, how the black metal scene has changed since the 90s, racism, if the image is still obligatory in the genre and Vicotnik's, aka Yusaf Parvez, Norse-Indian tattoo. We also discussed tattoo and tattooing with Aldrahn, aka Bjørn Dencker,, who apart from Dødheimsgard's vocalist, is a tattooer.

Interview & Photos by Ino Mei.

Since the formation of Dødheimsgard in 1994 you experienced different music styles, progressing from black metal into more avant garde-ish and psychedelic tunes. Where do DHG stand now?

Yusaf: We are still a black metal band. This is kind of like our humble beginning. I guess that when you’re doing your first record is like paying your dues to the genre itself and then you get more freedom to explore music. For me the most important thing is the exploration of the emotion in music. Our music is still very dark and focused on that sort of topics, while its expression has been affected by other genres as well, and that reflects us as people. We don’t listen only to black metal or only metal at home! 

How has your audience reacted to these experimentations?

Yusaf: I believe the biggest transformation was around the “666 International” album. It took a long time for people to accept it. But as soon as they did, it got some kind of cult status. It also depends on the region. It seemed that we disappointed a lot of Germans; we were singed to a German label while doing the black metal they just like and suddenly we were this avant garde band with red & blue make up. So we kind of broke the tradition a lot.

Bjørn: They said we were playing techno metal (laughs).

Yusaf: I think that if you want to be relevant you need to take the chance to be hated as well. You can’t really puss the genre in a safe way, and expect everyone to understand it or like it. It’s inevitable.

What are you ambitions?

Yusaf: My ambition is to be creative, and to set a mark in music – especially in my own genre. To help explore it and expand it. 

How will you describe this genre that you’ve been exploring?

Yusaf: In the bottom line it is basically black metal. That’s what we’ve been exploring and trying to expand. The idea traces back in the early 90s when we started liking this music and every band was different. I still like that ideal. The fact that to be part of this music you have to have a specific signature, and a specific sound that it’s only entitled to you. That got somewhere lost, because a new generation of bands have grown up and they try to sound… similar.

Why did it take you so long to put out a new record?

Yusaf: It’s not only one reason, but many. 

Bjørn: Why does it take a long time to paint a painting? Some painters spend years and years to make a great painting. This is how it is with art.

Yusaf: There are also the practical aspects. DHG have always faced line up issues, which don’t help either when you’re trying to make a record. Finding the right expression is hard too. So when you make a record and you release it and then you sit down to make another, you're kind of still stuck in the previous record when it comes to your riffs etc. So you need to find in a way your new sound and that takes a long time.

What were your influences for “A Umbra Omega”?

Yusaf: For this record it was our own experiences.

Bjørn: A symbiosis.

Yusaf: It’s a different album in the black metal world because it’s not elitistic, though it has a lot of darkness in it. It’s not a conceptual darkness; it’s more like a real life one. You’re drawing out experiences, scenarios and situations, but you keep the thoughts, ideas and emotions. I guess that was the most important thing about this record; it had to have the right mood. I have thrown away a lot of music that I thought was cool but didn't have the right feeling. I believe that was the main factor for this record. I wanted to bring a feeling that you’ll get lost in. When you listen to “A Umbra Omega” you kind of tune out everything else. You listen to the musicians and the story narrator but at some point it stops been about us and it becomes about your own introspection and your own emotional exploration. I wanted to make a record that it won’t work doing the dishes and listening to it! You need to pay attention to it. 

Another aspect is that it was never meant to be an album about production. So if you listen to the record it doesn't really have a modern production. It has a quite basic production cause I didn’t want the record to be about sound or technicality. I just wanted it to be about purity. Our intention is that our experiences kind of transform into your own. So the introspection that is mine becomes yours cause you relate those same thoughts, emotions and feelings to your life and ideas. I guess it’s a bit arty-farty (laughs).

Are you interest in the arts in general? 

Yusaf: Yes, in some arts. Though I only create music. Music it’s s full time job. I don't have time to do anything else.

Bjørn: When it comes to composition we have a completely different way of doing things. I am mainly a vocalist, however being a composer of this scale it demands quite a lot of my time.

Guys how do you see the metal scene now?

Bjørn: There are some really good bands. Like Ascension from Germany - they released  “Consolamentum” and “The Dead of the World”. This is the best black metal I’ve heard in ten years, perhaps more! There’s also Schammasch, again from Germany, who are a great band, and Acrimonious from Greece are worth mentioning. A lot of bands are popping out that are worth checking out.

Do you think that black metal is doing a “comeback”?

Yusaf: The younger generation is all grown up now. They have spent ten years in bands already and now they're getting good, and adding their signature to the music. A lot of good bands are coming up now with great musicianship and good live performances. I guess the most different aspect between now and then isn’t the quality anymore but he fact that it was very different to be in the black metal scene back in the day. It had some risk to it. You were really hated. It wasn't easy to get in. If you didn't have the right dedication etc. we actually wanted you out of the Norwegian black metal scene…

It was very idealistic back then.

Bjørn: It was also very childish. You must understand, we were kids and we were putting all these childish things into this so-called idealism that flourished through this culture. We were doing and saying all kinds of stupid things.

Yusaf: It was very immature but I think the immaturity benefited the music. Because we were so self-important and self-righteous that we put so much into it and we had a lot of confidence of what we were doing, and that really affected the quality back then.

Bjørn: Exactly. It made a really strong product that have stand the test of time. The art still stands, while all the folly and the foolishness Is gone. 

Yusaf: I guess it’s easier to be on the black metal scene today. The community it’s much more open, and the audience as well. People are very friendly.
Bjørn: Completely the opposite. Back in the days if you were friendly for example, you weren’t true. 

Yusaf: The metal community now is very good, in the sense that it is open, accepting, caring and there isn’t much sexism. There is a haven for the deviant. It’s a good brotherhood.

When it comes to the acclaimed image of black metal, isn’t “obligatory” anymore?

Bjørn: I don't think it matters at all. It’s completely irrelevant. It’s about the music and the arts, and that’s it. 

The darkness though remains, doesn’t it?

Yusaf: It doesn't necessarily means that you don't want to be happy. But singing about contentment and happy things isn’t really that interesting. It makes more sense to write about things that people shut up about and shut out of their lives.

Yusaf is this a Norse tattoo in your arm?

I wanted to do something that if a Norwegian looks at it he would interpreted like that and if I am with my Indian family they actually interpreted as Indian. So I wanted something that fits both, cause I am half Indian and half Norwegian.  

Has your mixed race identity and heritage influenced you as musician?

Yes, people say that they can hear the Indian influence in the music. I guess since my home environment has been a bit chaotic culturally, foodwise and music-wise, all that blended into me. Probably that made me a more open person when it comes to colour and race. Well cause I have to be, as I am of a mixed race myself.

Did you have any issues in the beginning when entering the then “strict” black metal Norwegian scene?

Most people are decent. Maybe they didn't really have an issue with me not being 100% white, but they had to portrayed it cause otherwise they might be ostracized from the scene. So when the years went by, everybody calmed down about it. But around 1993-4 there was a bit of a merging of the skinhead community with the black metal scene in Norway, but happily it dissolved. As I said in our scene people are decent and in the end they didn't want it. It was a personal victory for me, being half Indian, in a scene that had a lot of strong opinions and getting Fenriz (ed. from Darkthrone) into the band – probably the most prominent person in black metal that wasn't in jail at the time. He came to our band and played with us. When he started playing with a half Indian that sent a message.

Bjørn how long you’ve been tattooing?

I began “officially” as an apprentice five years ago. I was actually tattooing before, but I reached a point I understood that this is something that needs to be learnt by someone. I was lucky to start my apprenticeship at Lena Tattoo Studio. Now I am actually a tattooer there. The studio is located in my hometown - actually it’s more like a village - Lena. Although it’s a small place, the competition is not great, because there are only two other tattoo studios in the nearby province, and the county where I live it’s really big. Moreover the other two studios don’t have such a good reputation so we have a lot of work. 

How is the tattoo scene now in Norway?

It has exploded! Oslo is a rather small capital (about 800.000 inhabitants), however there are 65 tattoo studios! That’s a lot. Tattoos are now popular to all kinds of people; from bankers to young people – who are actually the majority. Tattoo now “belongs” to all social classes. I am glad.

Are traditional Norse tattoos big in Norway?

Where I come from they are almost absent… I have probably tattooed something Norse only twice. I wish they were more popular, but they’re not. People tend to prefer portraits, lettering and dull stuff like stars. I think that in the countryside you get to see more the trends. Maybe in the bigger cities Norse tattoos do have an audience.

What were you doing before tattooing?

I was working at a local school for children.

How has your identity as a tattooer affected your musical career?

They go hand in hand. The one motivates the other. I feel that if I had only one thing I will get tired at the end or I will get stacked in my own ideas and not be able to move forward! Music and tattoo ignites each other. It gives each other life, and motivates me on both levels.

Is your tattooing as avant garde as your music?

I wouldn’t say so… Portraits are my favorite. I always wanted to be able to do them. I also like darker stuff, dark realism, like Paul Booth’s work. He’s the master.  

I still feel like an amateur. There is so much to learn when it comes to tattooing.

Do you get to tattoo a lot DHG fans?

This happens of course. Sometimes they feel that it is somehow “special” because it’s me. Some people even want to come to my village from different countries to get tattooed. But overall I wouldn’t say it is that much. I think that people are aware of the music and they separate my two qualities.
Before we came over to play in Greece a guy contacted me that wanted me to tattoo him the Dødheimsgard pentagram logo and if I can bring my gear with me. I explain to him that I can’t. There is no time when I’ m on tour.

HeartbeatInk Tattoo Magazine would like kindly to thank Chris for the help and the realisation of the interview and Fuzz Club for the hospitality.