The Gospel of Life and Death: An Interview with Kjetil Manheim, Order

At the border of chaos and disorder
We stand
Breaking through barriers
Crushing your delusional religious idyll

Photography courtesy of Order

We can debate the true origins of Black Metal for the rest of our lives. For me, I never doubt that it started in Norway in the 1980s, because it was there that Mayhem first established the groundbreaking infernal blueprint. Sure, there were any number of bands who shaped seminal early releases like Pure Fucking Armageddon, Deathcrush and De Mysteris Dom Sathanas. Everyone from Black Sabbath to Mercyful Fate, Venom, Hellhammer and Bathory can be named as a big influence on not only Mayhem but the others who followed them. But the sound that developed and then spread like a contagion was set down by Necrobutcher, Euronymous and Manheim. And spread it did, far and wide and it’s still going strong in the 21st century.

Now part of the legendary Order, Manheim is back to confirm his rightful place high up in the annals of Black Metal. Made up of Anders Odden (guitar), Billy Messiah (vocals), Stu Manx (bass) and Manheim himself on drums, Order recapture that early malignant atmosphere through a potent combination of old school feel and a really contemporary sound. This is no nostalgia trip. New album The Gospel is about the here and now, about the ongoing pain humans feel just from being alive.

It was a real honour to meet up with Manheim and talk about his history, his music and his ideas. It was, to say the very least, a very interesting encounter.

Congratulations on the new album The Gospel. Where was it recorded and what are the main ideas behind the album?

Thanks very much. We all thought Lex Amentiae was a good album in the sense that there were some good songs on it, and it was a step in the direction we were heading in. But it is a collection of songs. We were working, it was a new band and we wanted to get something out. That’s what you do right? And we were happy, but it wasn’t something that we were super excited about. It was more like these are the songs that we have written right now, and we like them and hope you do too. After that we got good reviews and all that and everything was fine, but it hasn’t been orderly in Order.

A lot of things have been happening around us like just lately when Anders got sick. So, it was a lot of back and forth. I’m not sure if you know this, but Anders was diagnosed with severe cancer, and this was after we had already lost Rene to cancer.  But that’s life. I mean the band has been writing songs, but we haven’t had this continuous journey that you need to get going. So, it’s been very fragmented, and especially when Anders got sick. When he was free from cancer, last August, they told him that he was really free of it, then we decided to start making things happen. We thought that if we didn’t get anything done now it would start to look like a one album project. But we really thought that we could do something with this band, so we basically started all over again.

We looked through all the material we had produced over the years since Lex Amentiae, and felt it wasn’t good enough, there was something missing. It lacked spirit, it lacked a lot of things which was a consequence of us going in and out of the project all the time. That’s when Anders and I decided to scrap it all. Every note, every riff were just dumped. We started anew. And that was a very wise decision, because as soon as we had done that Anders and I started to work on new riffs, and the energy was there. We started in September last year and just let ourselves loose. It was Anders and I who wrote the whole album, and when we finished the first song the energy was there and we recorded it as a demo for the other guys. I wrote the lyrics and we recorded it and I did the vocals so we had a whole composition ready.

We did exactly the same with the next song, and this energy just came again. We were really in the zone. Again, I wrote the lyrics, Anders was putting all the riffs together and we started working on the construction of the songs, which we recorded the same way. By mid-October we had finished all the basics of the songs, so it took us about six weeks. It was kind of a release. As soon as we put everything aside and started anew, we used everything we had done as a sort of background. It was like white heat, there was nothing there to adjust. That’s why it came this fast, and that’s why it was so intense. We had the time to be so intense, because of Covid and all that. We were in this zone, and this zone was hard, it was fun, it was a lot of things. There were many emotions going on. And I think you can recognise that in the songs.

When we had finished the songs we were looking at the lyrics I’d written, and I was told that people would think we were on the brink of suicide. The lyrics are very dark, but that’s just the way it went. It started with Bringer of Salt, which is all about death, which is a storm that is always there. As we live, we have this storm around us and it’s very close, always there. As we wrote the songs we went deeper and deeper into these types of feelings and thoughts about that part of life. So, this album is more esoteric, more about the lived life. I don’t think I could have written these lyrics when I was 18. It reflects a lot of experience around being human. That’s where Black Metal comes from after all. It’s not as if you are into Black Metal and you don’t acknowledge that there is love, family, friends, the positive things about being human. But what we focus on, where we find the energy and get our creative inspiration that is the part that is also about being human. It’s totally entwined with being human, and you can’t get rid of it. And that’s pain. And the pain you experience as you live life.

It’s a very lonesome journey because even though we are a social species and enjoy things like conversations and get into a vacuum if we don’t have people around us, we are ultimately alone. It’s very hard for anyone else to understand how you feel. You can understand it on an intellectual level, but you can never feel the way I feel. You can probably find some sort of resonance, like in the lyrics for Descend where the feeling is that there is no one else that you can blame but yourself. When you look back at all your choices, all the things that you’ve done, how you choose to react to things around you, you are actually building the blocks of pain. It’s only yours, your house of pain. You can’t point to anyone else and blame them. It’s something you own totally, and you have to live with that, and this is what Descend is all about. Then there is Tomb which talks about how you retreat within yourself when everything gets really hard. You’re just there and it’s all consuming. You’re sitting in the bottom of this well, and this well is inside you and you just wait until things get better.

I’ve talked to a lot of people about these lyrics, and many have said ‚Yeah I’ve been there, I know what you’re talking about. I think that this is universal, and something that comes with being human, and we can’t take that away from the experience of being human without losing ourselves. That part of living just numbs us, so then there is no life left. You can’t be a fully experienced human being without all this pain and suffering. That’s what this album is all about. I think the lyrics are very well entwined with the music, and that’s why we ultimately thought that this really is a ‚gospel‘ here. The gospel according to Order.

The message of this album is that the pain you experience is real, we all have it. You don’t need to be sick or need help, but it’s not only sick people who have these problems and who live through these feelings. Everyone does. To survive it you have to endure, because if you sit still and do nothing that’s the end. It would have been difficult for us to produce this album back in the 80s. Reading the lyrics as you listen to The Gospel enhances the experience. It’s really important to us. It is a very intense journey, and an album people should listen to from beginning to end. We hope as many people as possible will get to hear it so that they get the chance to take a position.

How far do you think Order have progressed musically and as people since Lex Amemtiae in 2017?

I think the band has matured in the sense that we have arrived at the place that we aspired to reach. We said to ourselves when we started that we wanted to do something new, but still have a feel for where we come from. We won’t be the new wine, as it were, we let younger bands do that. But we can progress Black Metal a bit and see if we can do something that’s contemporary while getting that feeling from early Black and Death Metal, because we are a mix of both. I think we have achieved that.

As people we have known each other for many years. I think the band is more like a classic band. Before Lex Amentiae it was more of a project, but now we have a purpose and feel that as a band we are good. We wrote the album quite fast and recorded it between January and May, going into really nitty gritty details like how fast a specific track should be, how do we transcend from one song to the next and so on. Nothing is done by chance; everything is very much thought through. It starts off with the piano part on Pneuma, the breath of life, where everything is kind of innocent, beautiful but still a bit uncertain. When I play this it’s not out of tune but nearly. It misses one note if you listen closely. The tune is something that I’ve had inside me since the Mayhem years, and we have never been able to make use of it. Øystein and I tried to use it in the 80s but there was no room to use it then. So, it has been with me all the time and I always felt that it would be a great tune to put into a riff. It’s basically a guitar riff and in Order we tried to make a song out of it but this proved impossible. In the end we decided to use it as an intro for this album, which then leads straight into Rise, which is all about arriving – here I stand, chaos and order, fuck you I’m going to live my life. Then at the end of the album Pneuma II it’s not the same tune anymore. The breath of life has been filled with your life, my life. It’s much more complex now, the pain is very much there but it’s the same tune.

Did you write the material as a band or did someone take the lead in developing the tracks? What is your personal favourite track on the album?

We do it in the old way. On this album it’s only Anders and me. We have a studio, so we can record and work on things. Anders is an incredible riff master; he is extremely skilled. He can change a riff and make small, subtle changes in a second. So, we jam and as he is playing, I try to respond to the riff. I try different rhythms, and I don’t like to have drums just as background that blasts through everything. I want the drums to play with the music. We try different ways of doing this, and while I try different rhythms the riff is also changing character. I will put the drums in a different place and then the whole song changes. That’s what we try to do. Anders plays with different riffs; I play with different rhythm structures. When we hit some place, we just keep on going. We record everything as we do this and then go back and listen to it. A lot of the time we listen back to what we played and it doesn’t work so we just go in and try something else. I think this is a very good way of writing because then you get the variety. A lot of people listen to the drum beat on Bringer of Salt and can’t get their head around it. I like this.

In terms of my favourite track this is much easier question to answer with the first album which is a collection of songs. This album is a concept album, so I think it works very much as a whole. I have mixed feelings about giving out one song as a single. People who buy the LP will have the best experience. When you turn it over to side B you will suddenly hear this whispering voice that talks about this old demon, a demon that took refuge in human beings from the beginning of time. It’s all about how it grinds you down until there’s nothing left. When it’s finished with you and you’re dead it just moves on to someone else. I’ve been listening to this album a lot since we finished it and I never get tired of it, which is strange to me. Usually when you’re done, you’re done, but I’m not done.

In terms of the band itself, when did you decide to put this together? What were the early ideas, what were you trying to get to with the music early on, and do you think you’ve achieved that now?

I think that we have achieved it. As I mentioned earlier, we feel that we have arrived at the place we aspired to be in. The band was established in 2013, that was when we got together in the studio just to try, and for me to start doing Metal again. I’ve been away from the Metal scene since Mayhem. I’ve been doing noise, avant garde things, my collaboration with Conrad Schnitzler and a lot of other stuff. So, I’ve been exploring that side of my musicality.

Billy was busy doing his Oi punk. But it was Anders that approached me and Billy. He had approached me a couple of times before and asked me if I would be interested in doing something, and for a while it wasn’t important, I didn’t have time because I was doing other projects. Then he emailed me and asked if I would be interested in trying a mix of the old Cadaver and old Mayhem and see if we could make something happen. And for some reason I was ready to answer yes to that. So, I said yes why not, let’s give that a try, and Billy said the same. It was the right time to ask the question, I guess.

We just got together, turned on the amps and thought, let’s try some songs we know and it was fun. I felt like I was coming home to something, because it was coming home to Metal again, which was great. We decided there and then that this was something we wanted to explore more and we did. A few months later we had written a couple of songs. Savage was the first one we finished and I liked it and thought that this could really go somewhere. That was when we decided to form real band around it, and we decided to see if we could make something that would be contemporary but with that old feel. Lex Amentiae was a first step in that direction, but The Gospel is on a completely different level.  

Coming from Norway you clearly have a strong and proud Black Metal legacy behind you, and you personally were very much a part of how that developed. How important is this to you, and which of those early Norwegian bands do you still view as having made a major contribution to the development of Black Metal?

That is a very difficult question. People like to simplify reality right. They think that Deathcrush was the start of Norwegian Black Metal, and yes you can say that. But Deathcrush didn’t come from nowhere and we had our inspiration. Black Sabbath were instrumental for Black Metal to happen, but it was a very complex web of events and things that happened to make things progress.

Black Metal had some really great events, and a lot of bands were responsible for creating those events. You had Satyricon who released great albums during the second wave. Mayhem, which I was part of, was responsible for two events, which is remarkable. Deathcrush was one, and at that point I thought we were finished because the band was nowhere. I left Mayhem after that because there was nothing, it was all over the place. Then Øystein managed to raise the band again and got it back on track. But those years before between Deathcrush and Mysteris were chaos. Then you have De Mysteris Dom Sathanas which was an event.

I really love the early Darkthrone albums because they took the onus, didn’t compromise and they were just going for it. I love the fact that it was unpolished, all feeling. Darkthrone was really important for the whole thing and so were Thorns, although I think Thorns was for more sophisticated listeners.

Music comes in three waves in my opinion, all creativity comes in three waves, all art in fact, whether painters, writers or music. The first wave is the frontier where people do stuff that no one really understands. It’s really strange. You can call them innovators, and they go in a direction that seldom leads to success. They do succeed in pushing things forward, and I think you have several bands that have done that in Metal. Then you have the second wave of creativity that comes after those first innovators who are really talented. They take those ideas that are really new, weird and strange and put something together around that. They bring it out in a format that really fulfils the potential. These are the big names, the ones who know how to talk to the masses. The third wave is made of people who many say are copyists. I don’t think that they are, they just want to do what the big names have done. There is a lot of talent there, but they don’t really add anything new.

Does Black Metal have that one line made up of three waves? I don’t think so. I think there are many lines. You have bands like 1349 who I love. Mayhem has done more great albums, and there are a lot of Norwegian bands who have contributed to these waves, which are not successive. It’s just chaos. This is why I find it very difficult to say that this is the start, and this is the end because it’s just not possible to do that. Bands go for a long period of time not really doing anything, but then suddenly they really come up with something.

I think there is a lot happening currently in the scene, and some strong albums coming out. If you are looking for the more classic, Thorns type of sound then the new Djevel album is a great album. I think this shows that it is possible to take a genre and do something with it that brings life into it again. You can be a part of the third wave but still be part of the first or second, if you see what I mean. I think it’s sad that there are so many producers, labels and bands who don’t have the courage to go outside the box. To be honest there are a lot of songs that I listen to and think, if only they had mixed it differently it could have been so cool. Instead, they sound like any other band, and like every band on my playlist has been to the same studio, with the same producers and mixers. There’s a lot of talent, so why don’t they have the courage? Are they afraid of not being popular, which I think is really sad. I think publishers should be more experimental with the sound.

Can we talk a little about those early days with Mayhem? How do you remember those times now? At the time of Deathcrush, did you have a sense that you were going to create something that was really going to take off and was highly innovative at the time?

To be honest, no. I remember the Mayhem years as very intense, creative and fun. We were really in a good place and making music which is what we really wanted to do, and we had ambition musically. Everyone told us that what we did was shite and that we were just wasting our talent trying to make something noisy and stupid. Everyone wanted us to play Heavy Metal or get into New Wave, because that’s what rock radio stations were playing. But we had confidence in what we did and we made music for ourselves. We told the whole world that we were the best band in the world, and that’s youth for you. We were very confident in what we did but we didn’t expect it to be a huge thing.

Within the underground scene we knew that people really liked what we did, and in that sense we were international. We thought that we were huge because we had this network of people around the world who were also doing this kind of music. But to think that Deathcrush would have gone on to be what it is today, I mean it still sells, is strange. We never imagined that this would happen. We wanted to show the world, and we managed to do that and I was very pleased. At the end Øystein had his ideas, Necrobutcher and me had different ideas that weren’t aligned and it was chaotic. When I decided to leave it was because I didn’t want to live life sleeping on coaches around the world and playing in shitty clubs. I didn’t want to be a rock star. That’s why I left. I thought that Mayhem would never be able to make another album, and I was wrong.

Necrobutcher and I are still playing actually. We’re rehearsing Deathcrush and Pure Fucking Armageddon, and we plan to do at least one performance. If we are going to do that it needs to be before we’re 60. This isn’t the music a man over 60 can perform..

What about other musical and non-musical influences? What sort of ideas influenced you in the early days and what influences you now?

What influences me is still philosophy. I like people who think deeply, who are clear and don’t follow a dogmatic line. I like people who share their ideas and like to discuss them to see if there’s some truth there. I love Richard Dawkins, and the way he looks at the way we have developed as a society and a species. I love Christopher Hitchens who had a really sharp pen. I like people who are intellectual, who have actually read a book and know what they’re talking about. These are people who know how to argue, who have knowledge and are not trying to push you into a dogma. They are just trying to bring some reality and explain the world and follow the idea that man is born free, which we also have in our own lyrics.

Man is born free, under his own will. That goes back to Crowley. I’m still influenced by Thelema. To this day I still haven’t seen any other simple, compressed rule of life that is better than the Law of Thelema, which is do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law, and love is the law, love under will. That compresses everything. It’s important to me, and I think it’s important to defend people around the world who really struggle. So, I like poets, writers and intellectuals, and it doesn’t matter if they are self taught. I like the Freeman’s podcast, Sam Harris, people who have serious conversations that show life around the world is a complex thing, and to which there are no easy answers.

When it comes to music I listen to a lot, many different kinds of genres. I’m still mostly influenced by people who go a bit outside the mainstream. When people do something that’s a little odd, a bit strange, that’s where I am. I like artists like Ghostmane, Diffusion who I think is very talented, and in general musicians who take the small, strange path that takes us to strange places.

Can I ask you about the artwork for The Gospel? Who designed the cover and what are the ideas behind it?

I designed the cover. It was a journey to get there. When we discussed it, we were very excited. We talked about the intensity of the album, the fact that it was uncompromising and thought about having a cover with lots of violence on it. But I slept on it and decided against that because it’s too easy, too Death Metal. Then I decided that it’s really an esoteric thing, it’s not something that’s outside. It’s all about this lonesome person, this figure. It’s me on the cover. We got this photographer who’s really talented, Morten Strøm and I discussed it with him. I asked him to get the feel for this person who is really sad but not crying, so you can see that there is some profound melancholy. He managed to do that. He didn’t use any external lighting apart from a fireplace, this was taken outdoors. He took three shots and this is one of them. We worked a bit with darkness and contrast to get the right feel, and everyone agreed that this cover should be as simple as it could be. It is very simple, there is very little happening

Do you have plans for live shows now that the Covid situation is showing some signs of improvement? Are you coming to Germany?

The problem is that the 2022 programme is basically 2020 postponed. And as we haven’t been heard from for four years there isn’t this demand out there. I think that we need to work at festival appearances, but we need to get this album out before we can answer that question. I hope that when people hear this album the festivals and venues around Europe can find a space for us. We don’t have any plans for Germany, although it would be great to play there. I know there has been some talk about doing England, but that’s just an idea at this stage. We will play Poland because that was planned in 2020. That will be small three city tour, but that’s ages away yet. Hopefully we will get to play a lot more next year, and we are motivated to do that. We have been able to set up some concerts in Norway because the booking agents know us and know what they will get. That will be in October and it will be great fun. We start with a small festival in Moss on the 2nd of October, the day after the release party. I am really looking forward to that and to doing more live shows because I think the album will suit a live setting. It will be a great album to play live. I’m not that demanding, I really love to play small venues. That’s where I feel at home. We can do small clubs in Germany, no problem.

The Gospel is a magnificent Black Metal album made by some of very men who first brought this music into the world. It does capture the agony of humanity, as Black Metal should do, and it does it brilliantly. Kjetil Manheim is righty proud of what he has accomplished, back in the 80s and now. Because now this kind of Black Metal is more relevant than ever.  

The Gospel is released by Listenable Records this October https://www.listenable.eu/

Veröffentlicht von SerpentSkin

Doom, Black Metal, Satan

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