Norway is a country of dramatic natural beauty. Its stunning coastline, scattered with fjords and thousands of islands, and its awe-inspiring mountains and forests make it an amazing place in which to lose oneself. Known as the land of the midnight sun and of the northern lights, this is a country big on atmosphere, with a rich cultural history that stretches back to the 11th century B.C.
This spectacular landscape, and Norway’s powerful heathen legacy, have not surprisingly inspired some of its most important Black Metal musicians such as Darkthrone, Emperor and Enslaved. Djevel, founded by its main man Trånn Ciekals in Oslo in 2009, are perhaps the best example yet of a band that has totally absorbed Norway’s dark, sinister atmospheres and crafted a series of epic recordings that capture them perfectly. From 2013’s debut release Besatt av mane og natt through Norske ritualer to their latest recording Tanker som rir natten, Djevel create breath taking and diverse soundscapes replete with musical textures that capture the true spirit of Norway with perfection.
Now including members like former Emperor drummer Faust among their ranks, Djevel are currently celebrating this year’s release and the rave reviews it has received by doing what they do best, writing and recording another new record due later this year. I met Trånn Ciekals the brain behind Djevel and we talked in depth about the band, their Black Metal and the ideas behind it.
Congratulations on the new album Tanker Som Rir Natten. Where was it recorded and what are the main ideas behind the album?
The lyrics are sort of like stories, not like words that are just put together. They are more like short stories. I wanted to express things more deeply than normal lyrics allow. The album itself was recorded as always in Oslo, but our new singer Kvitrim did everything at home. It’s basically only the drums that we do in the studio, everything else is recorded at home.
You have released a whole string of incredibly crafted and evolving recordings since Døssanger back in 2011. Are you happy with the way Djevel has progressed, and how have you developed as a band since then?
Obviously, I am happy with Djevel’s progression otherwise I would have done something else. First of all, I don’t compare my albums to each other. Each album is just an album. I never think, oh I must make an album that is better than the last one, or I have to do this now because last time I did that. On Blant svarte graner there were many more acoustic parts, and then on the last album Ormer til armer, maane til hode there were no acoustic parts and it was a bit more aggressive. I would say that each album is a reaction to the previous one, so if I used a lot of acoustic guitars on an album, I might get a bit bored with them so I won’t use them as much. Bur there is no plan as such, it’s just about how I feel. Each album stands on its own. Everyone who reviews us compares an album with the others, but for me that’s not relevant at all. The albums are not connected to each other, but I do understand that people think so. How Djevel has evolved is through natural evolution and also there have been different people from time to time. Some people got left behind and that has of course affected things. I don’t tell people who join the band what to do on their instruments. I just write the album, give it to them and ask them to do their part. I have no idea what Faust will do on drums or Kvitrim on bass. I have no clue at all. I trust the individuals to know what the album is about, and I leave it up to them. They should be able to feel what the right thing to do is. It’s based on trust. I don’t just have random people in the band.
What are the main ideas behind Djevel?
I haven’t changed a bit since 1992. This is when it comes to Black Metal I mean. In other aspects of my life, I have become a different person, career and family and all that stuff. The way I see it Black Metal is not supposed to be aligned with or go hand in hand with ordinary life. It’s a bit of a dilemma, because if you try to incorporate Black Metal into everything you do you will water it down so it becomes weak. So, what I do is I keep it the way I always worked with it. I started playing when I was 14 and I want to keep it that way. It is impossible to be the same kid, mind you, not when you are 43 years old. With Djevel I want to keep the old Heathen, the old devilish aspects in society alive. I am aware of certain types of people and ideas that are even more suffocating than Christianity, but I still have a big thorn in my side with Christianity.
I do this for myself. It sounds a bit strange when you release albums, but it’s just really for myself. If other individuals can use my music to ’strengthen‘ you might say their hate of Christianity and relate to the darker aspects of their own personality, well that’s good of course. People are giving Christianity too much slack these days, and I think it’s important to take a stand and make people aware of it. Like in Norway you can choose to do whatever you want but Christianity still fucks up a lot of lives and takes a lot of money from the government. In terms of the financial support they get I really don’t like it.
Coming from Norway you clearly have a strong and proud Black Metal legacy behind you. How important is this to you, and which Norwegian bands are especially important to you?
Where to start.. It made a really big impact on me. I came into Black Metal in ’92 when all the demos and early albums of the legendary bands started coming out. It made a huge impact on me naturally, and it changed me as a person, even to this day. If I had to name some bands it would probably the same ones as everyone else. Darkthrone, Satyricon, Emperor, Gorgoroth. Sadly, there aren’t many of those that I follow today. None of them actually. I never listened to Mayhem after De Mysteriis. I have nothing really against what came after that, but it never really got my attention.
What about other musical and non-musical influences? What sort of ideas influenced Djevel from the start?
Back in those days I only listened to Black Metal. If you listened to Death Metal back then you would get beaten up or you could go to gaol. Back then it was only Black Metal, but now I listen to everything. Maybe reggae is one of those genres I don’t listen to, but I am into ambient, electronic, classical music, pop. As long as I find it good, I don’t give a fuck what genre it is. When it comes to Black Metal, I’m not influenced by anything other than Black Metal, I hate that incorporation of Rock and Thrash in Black Metal, that belongs nowhere. When that whole Black n Roll started, I hated that, it’s so boring. There’s no feeling. But people can do what they what to do. I do, so they should also be allowed to. But I don’t like it.
In terms of non-musical influences, I’ve always been a person who spends a lot of time in the mountains here in Norway. Me and Fenriz have had a lot of really nice trips, sleeping in tents all over the mountains here in this part of Norway. The forest and nature for me reeks of heathenism and pagan stories. I don’t read as much as I used to. Everyone in the early 90s had to read this and that book and choose between LaVey and Crowley. All of these old books can be a bit hard to understand. Books and ideas are in the mind of the beholder in my opinion. When I was 16 or 17, I would read a book and then quote it in my own words, but now I still read and enjoy what I read. I’ve been trying to figure out Necronomicon, but it’s not easy. Because it’s a grimoire, it’s not easy to understand. I think it’s important to embrace the sinister side of yourself, but also the other part, the heart. This thing about Satanism and Black Metal being élite, so many people who walked around in ’95, trying to be élite, and being broke, no education, doing drugs etc. while claiming to be a state-of-the-art human.
Can we talk a little about the album artwork? What are the ideas behind the various album covers, and who designs them?
The first four covers were done by a friend of mine, who also does Enslaved’s covers. Then a Norwegian artist, Danny Larsen did the next ones, up until the new album. He is a very talented artist but I always just wanted to have this photograph of a moon and a forest. Our new singer Kvitrim took this photograph and did all the designs for the album. It’s the most Black Metal cover we have had yet. It sums up everything I feel is Black Metal. I really like it. If you just sit and stare at it and listen to the music, I think it becomes very powerful.
Obviously, you have a pretty dynamic and impressive live show. How difficult is it for you as a band to recreate what are quite complex recordings for a live setting?
The whole live part I was very sceptical to do in the beginning. I wanted us to be what I would like to see myself. I think a lot of Black Metal bands go onstage with random corpse paint and having disco lights onstage. For me that doesn’t work. If I see a show and it starts out like that I just leave. So, I was very unsure about whether I wanted to do live shows. But over the years we have found a way to create a good atmosphere. I always tell the guys who take care of the lighting to go home when we start and keep the lights as dark as possible. And that’s it. The last two years it has become pretty decent, and especially with the new live line up. We have some really strong individuals on all instruments and it will be extremely intense now with the new line up. Everyone is almost 2 metres tall now, so it’s going to look really good.
In terms of your lyrics what are the main themes that you explore? I think it’s great that you write them in Norwegian, do you have a specific reason for doing so?
For me it feels closer to my person. When Black Metal first started that was the way it was supposed to be and I just kept that. I have never thought about having English lyrics in any of the bands I have been in. On the first demo I did in ’94 there was an English title, but that’s it, I think. The themes of the lyrics vary. The first albums were about old Norwegian traditions, like paganism and Devil worshipping, the old folklore and all that stuff. My lyrics are not about let’s all go burn a church, it’s more like a way to strengthen old devilish beliefs. The fifth album is all based around the Black Death, something that I have always been interested in, even as a kid. I felt it was also something that I wanted to do. On the last album Ormer til armer, mane til hode, the English title would be Serpents as the Arms, Moon as the Head, and it’s a way of portraying my more sinister side or in fact the sinister side all humans have. If you look in the mirror and see your arms as serpents and your head as the moon, that’s what I mean. Sadly, most people ignore this and leave the idea in a box, hidden away. It’s not about opening the box and then going out beating people in the streets, it’s more like a mindset, not leaving yourself lost in a ditch. On the new one it’s more stories, more like an escape, ideas that I get when I walk in the woods at night. It’s more like the way I escape.
Let’s talk a little about music in general. What has inspired you in the past as a band, and what particularly inspires you musically in 2021?
I don’t listen to Metal much at all. I really like Nils Frahm, the German composer who is more classical than electronic. I like stuff like Pink Turns Blue, but for new bands you should probably ask someone else. I like The Cure, but I am not inspired by any of them when I create my own music. I am inspired by the old Black Metal bands because I like to keep my Black Metal very pure and I’m very strict about it. I know I release a lot of albums, like one a year. But I would never release them if I didn’t think they had a right to live. I could create 5 albums a year, believe me, but it has to have some sort of value to me. I can tell you that I have completed a new album and we will record that probably over the summer. It has been composed pretty close to the latest one, but it will be different and it will also contain long songs and have a lot more synthesiser incorporated into it. Not crazy Dimmu Borgir synth, it will be really atmospheric. So, we’ll see.
I never had that traditional Metal upbringing you know. So, like people who listened to Venom when they were 5 and Iron Maiden when they were 7, I never had that. I went pretty much from pop music when I was a kid to 3 weeks of Sepultura, 2 months of Entombed then Bathory you know? I’ve never been that much into it so I have very weak radar when it comes to looking for Metal.
How do you view the current state of humanity? How do you see its future?
Probably another Trump and another pandemic. I mean where do you start? I think the best way to describe it is like having a birthday party for 8 or 9 years olds, and it’s raining outside with everyone inside with the adults trying to keep control and stop them from breaking stuff. I think it’s the same with humanity. You can’t control it and keep it from breaking stuff. The best thing you can do is live in your own world and create what’s best for you and the ones you love. It’s a birthday party with children who have gone wild. I just try and keep my albums interesting.
Are you planning live performances now the Covid situation is slowly improving? Will you be playing in Germany in the near future?
We are planning gigs yes. If everything goes as planned, we will play two gigs in Norway in October, Belgium in November, Austria and Sweden in December and Germany at the beginning of February. There is a festival in Leipzig at the start of February, then Berlin and Hamburg.
It was a truly unique experience meeting Trånn Ciekals. He remains wholly true to what he regards as the true spirit of Black Metal, and has created, in my opinion, some of the best music ever released in this genre. It is refreshing indeed to meet someone of such sanity, good sense and honesty who believes in what he does, creates effortlessly and has produced a distinctive, unique body of work that elevates the spirit above the banality and pointlessness of modern society. Catch them live in Germany next year. It will be memorable.