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Nifelheim

Nifelheim

by Niklas Göransson

October 2007 – Sweden Rock has organised a ferry cruise. Part of the line-up for this nautical spectacle is Blaze Baily, once vocalist for Iron Maiden, and his participation guarantees the presence of the most notorious twins in Swedish metal.

Tyrant and Hellbutcher, NIFELHEIM’s bass player and vocalist respectively, get comfortably seated in the cabin reserved for the interview. Accompanied by myself and a bottle of vodka, they are set to discuss their new album, “Envoy of Lucifer”. After a brief skirmish contested over who actually started the band, they agree it was a collaborative effort.

– We are identical twins after all, explains Hellbutcher, it does happen that you have the same idea simultaneously.

Despite founding the band in 1990, three years went by before their first official recording saw the light of day. Tyrant explains.

– We never made any particular efforts to be productive; we were rather young when forming the band, fifteen I think, so there was no rush to release anything. We didn’t see the point of yet another demo tape by fifteen-year-olds.

– Once it had been recorded, continues Hellbutcher, we weren’t really going to release it either but Jon (Nödtveidt, DISSECTION) kept nagging us to.

Nödtveidt played an important role in NIFELHEIM throughout the years. Besides actively promoting the band, he played a few guitar-leads on the first two records – their self-titled 1995 debut and “Devil’s Force” from 1998 – but internment courtesy of the judicial system prevented him from appearing on the third, the 2000 “Servants of Darkness”.

– The CD version of the VULCANO split will include a bonus song featuring Jon, Hellbutcher reveals, it was the last recording he ever did.

NIFELHEIM was not the only orchestral collaboration the twins had with Jon.

– In 1997, says Tyrant, we were about to record an album with a project called SATANIZED.

SATANIZED was initially founded in 1991, featuring members from DISSECTION and LORD BELIAL – they released the “Rehearsal ‘91” demo but disbanded within a year.

– It was around the time when this whole murder episode unfolded. Funnily enough – on the date we were booked to enter the studio, all of us were in custody. So that most certainly never came to fruition.

I’m assuming most reading this are at least briefly acquainted with this so-called murder episode. The unwilling inclusion of the NIFELHEIM twins in the judicial aftermath is not quite as known. When the topic comes up, the brothers squirm uncomfortably and exchange glances.

– Bah, exclaims Hellbutcher, it was only because we were friends with Jon and had visited his place a lot.

I seem to recall something about a Taser?

– Mmm, the vocalist acknowledges grudgingly, I kind of had one of those which happened to be ever so slightly involved.  That whole ordeal was insane, unbelievable – I had my home raided and so on. A deplorable ordeal, terribly unfortunate, but I don’t really want to talk about it.

 

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Apocalyptic Desolator, Hellbutcher, Tyrant, Insulter of jesus christ, Vengeance from Beyond

 

Besides my interviewees, today’s line-up consists of lead guitarist Vengeance from Beyond, Apocalyptic Desolator on rhythm guitar, and drummer Insulter of jesus christ. In a previous conversation I had with the aforementioned guitar players, they mentioned that the twins are rabidly pedantic with everything from song arrangements to recording technique; every riff must sound note-for-note the way it was visualised. The vocalist confirms.

– I’ll have this clear idea of a song in my head, how I want it to sound. Since I don’t play any instruments, besides a little guitar once in a while, I structure the whole thing in my mind. Having pondered the material over and over, it’s like it already exists on a record. So, when someone plays it differently, I feel as if I’m hearing a shitty cover version of my song. We’re even highly particular when it comes to individual cymbal hits.

The twins share composing duties between them while Hellbutcher is in charge of the lyrics.  Coupled with what’s been said thus far, it sounds almost as if the remaining members are hired mercenaries rather than full members.

– No, insists Hellbutcher, that’s certainly not the case. They are more than welcome to write their own material; it just has to pass the NIFELHEIM filter.

Hellbutcher proudly declares that the new album was recorded entirely in analogue, everything from recording deck to master tape – nothing digital. He laments the fact that there was a computer present in the studio facilities but assures me its only function was to burn CD-R’s.

– Explain that to your readers, Tyrant instructs, there was no way of cutting and pasting in the recording tracks; what you hear is what we play. We recorded all bass, drums and guitars in about two days, including the time it took to engineer the sound. Then we went on tour with VENOM.

The coveted slot of supporting the British legends on their Scandinavian tour was not selected randomly.

– Many wanted in on it, says Hellbutcher, but VENOM simply responded: ‘No, we want a good band.’

Tyrant continues:

– It’s great to know that they still have the good sense to favour real black metal over a bunch of idiots and posers.

Being diagnosed with the latter invective is supposedly a fate worse than death, which would imply a rather high standard when it comes to the recruitment of band members.

– Firstly, says Tyrant, they must have an understanding of what metal is all about. And, of course, worship IRON MAIDEN, death, and so on.

That said, I’m curious to hear the metal gospel according to the NIFELHEIM twins.

– Let’s say you’re at someone’s home, explains Hellbutcher, you put on EXCITER’s “Blood of Tyrants” and then just sit drinking and smashing things up – that’s when you’ve grasped what metal truly is all about. You can tell, you know – if people understand metal or not.

 

‘Speaking of metal and hard rock…’ is all I manage to utter before being subjected to exasperated sighs, the twins doubtlessly aware where this conversation is heading. After appearing in a 1998 documentary about metal on Swedish state television, the ‘Hard Rock Brothers’ is a stigmata they bear both as individuals and with NIFELHEIM as a band. As a result of their zealous dedication to IRON MAIDEN, as portrayed through the documentary, the twins have been made reluctant representatives for metalheads living the lifestyle to the max – at least in the eyes of people who like the music but have no bonds with the subculture or actual scene. Merely mentioning the subject renders dejected moans and synchronised eye-rolling, clearly demonstrating how thoroughly weary they are of this. Hellbutcher explains stoically that NIFELHEIM is the truth and the ‘Hard Rock Brothers’ nothing but a television fantasy.

– It’s completely beyond my understanding how people can be so transfixed by this, adds Tyrant, it was heavily edited and represents nothing of who we are. We were just goofing around. It truly is tragic how people are so fixated with what they see on TV.

– As soon as people have seen it, continues Hellbutcher, they think that’s what defines me. That it’s all I’ve ever done and they know me. From fifteen minutes of television! It’s bizarre.

– It’s been ten years now! Hand me that recorder, Tyrant commands while gesticulating with the vodka bottle, I want to speak to them directly: fuck off, you idiots!

This ‘fuck off’ slogan is something NIFELHEIM has utilised heavily through the years, all the way back to the demo booklet.

– That’s the attitude we’ve always had, explains Hellbutcher, we’ve never been into the underground or having pen-pals. That’s what we stand for.

– Solidarity sucks rectum, adds Tyrant, we like nothing!

One side-effect of this celebrity status is the steady stream of complete strangers approaching the twins as soon as they set foot at a metal event in Sweden. Referring to their disdainful mindset, I’m curious about what tactics they employ in keeping the plebs at bay.

– Well, says Tyrant, we’re actually somewhat polite. To get rid of them as fast as possible, that is.

Wouldn’t it be more efficient to simply fall back on this ‘fuck off’ approach?

– It’s really isn’t, I’ve tried everything! We’ve had to learn the hard way that the easiest escape route is to be as boring as possible. Laugh at us now, they’re not likely to giggle quite as much with a knife planted in their back.

Given the brothers’ attitude towards the underground, this might be a moot point – it is however indisputable that their scene credibility suffered heavily from the television appearance.

– Yep, concedes Tyrant, I suppose that’s soundly in tatters now.

Hellbutcher continues:

– Sooner or later, people will realise that we are serious and will never stop. I hope this nonsense gradually fades with each passing year and that the spotlight reverts back to the band.

When the documentary aired, many Swedish black metal fans reacted with outrage when they realised the NIFELHEIM connection. As luck would have it, the brothers were spared most of the blowback.

– You see, says Tyrant, I seem to remember being in custody at the time so I wasn’t subjected to all that many reactions myself. At that point we were rather tired of trying to be extreme; the ones who know, they know.

– There are no pretences, says Hellbutcher, I’ve done a lot of extreme shit and am precisely the way people originally thought.

Do you regret appearing in it?

– Of course we regret it, admits Tyrant, but it also came with some benefits.

– You can’t really say if you regret something like that, adds Hellbutcher, when you don’t know what the outcome would’ve been if you hadn’t

 

NIFELHEIM’s roots lie in Dals Långed, a small village in the west coast of Sweden with a population of approximately 1,500. Hellbutcher reveals that their place of origin is also the very foundation of Swedish black metal.

– That’s where Sweden’s first black metal ‘zine came from – Heavy Metal Massacre, by Phantom, or Lennart Larsson. The first issue came out in 1983 and had interviews with HELLHAMMER, VENOM, ANGELWITCH and so on. I consider Dals Långed a black metal village.

I recall hearing a rumour in the mid-nineties that NIFELHEIM’s drummer at the time had been forced out of the band by his parents after the local paper had attributed various shocking acts such as animal sacrifice to the band. Hellbutcher laughs, shaking his head.

– That’s not entirely true, even though the real story is no less bizarre. There was no newspaper. You’ve never lived in a small town, have you? Everyone knows who you are – and I mean everyone – the elderly, people at the post office, and so on. The whole thing turned into a bit of a countryside yokel situation, for some reason everyone suddenly started hating us. It was a mess, they accused us of all manner of things we were completely innocent of…

But also things you’d actually done?

– Ahem, Tyrant interject, yes. But a lot we never did! I’m talking completely outlandish claims here, like sacrificing an infant behind the town hall – really, where the hell would we have gotten an infant from?

– Anyway, Hellbutcher continues, our rehearsal place was in our drummer’s parents’ house. When all this happened, they suddenly announced that we were no longer welcome there. It’s not as if he was locked inside the house or anything, we just couldn’t come over as his parents would go completely mental at the mere sight of us.

While on the subject of rumours, I have to mention another one; that a previous guitar player was discharged on allegations of the prohibited act of procuring a girlfriend.

– Correct, confirms Tyrant, that was Morbid Slaughter. We had a… well, I suppose the attitude still remains but we’ve since learned that it’s impossible to enforce it and still keep the band together It’s hopeless, a utopia, but it’s simply not viable to operate a functioning band with such noble policies.

We return to their youth, which judging from what’s been revealed so far sounds like one spent in relative solitary.

– We were in our own world so to speak, says Hellbutcher, we were primarily in touch with people in Gothenburg, Falun, Strömstad, Norway and so on.

The brothers were early in establishing contact with the scene in Norway – they even visited Euronymous’ (MAYHEM) Oslo store Helvete and met many of the prominent personalities.

– We were in touch with the Norwegian black metal scene long before most other Swedes, says Tyrant. That’s certainly been forgotten in the shadow of the ‘Hard Rock Brothers’.

Were there ever any discussions about collaborating with Deathlike Silence Production?

– I remember that Jon sent Euronymous our demo, says Tyrant, but he was killed before we heard back from him. I don’t really want to speculate but it certainly wouldn’t have been impossible.

Lyrics are a crucial component of black metal. Hellbutcher, responsible for all orations, stresses a genuine and personal connection to the subject matter. Nonetheless, he’s not particularly talkative about it but I insist on knowing if the man really does worship the Devil.

– There are definitions of everything, he responds, but I’m not going to bother labelling myself. If I do, the people coming up to shake my hand will be asking about this too and that is, quite frankly, more than I can bear. What I can say is that they’re written in a state of sheer hatred, in which I’ll typically envision the end of creation. That’s what I’ve been doing since day one.

NIFELHEIM have never published any of their lyrics. They explain that there’s no particular reason for this, other than it’s now become a thing. At the time of this interview, it’s undecided if there will be a policy shift for “Envoy of Lucifer”.

– Perhaps, speculates Hellbutcher, we might put one of the lyrics on the back of a t-shirt design.

Speaking of merchandise; the twins are known to be resolutely unenthused by ‘girlie shirts’ but have now finally relented and printed one.

– We have, confirms Tyrant, ‘My boyfriend likes NIFELHEIM’.

Have you sold many of them?

– Not really. No matter, it’s a statement.

Those who’ve read the rare NIFELHEIM interviews through the years will be familiar with the twins’ habit of irritably fending off all questions about modern – as in, 1990 and onwards – black metal. They’ve also mocked several named bands, newcomers at the time but who would go on to be considered classics.

– We’ve never hesitated to taunt others, says Hellbutcher. Personally, I don’t listen to any of these new bands so I might as well insult them.

Is there really not a single modern band you like?

– No, he says with some afterthought, I don’t think so.

– Fuck off, adds Tyrant.

Alright, what was the most recent band you did like?

VENOM, they both reply in unison.

–  It’s not as if I think all of them are shit, clarifies Hellbutcher. I suppose some bands are acceptable but I’d never listen to stuff like that at home.

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Apocalyptic Desolator, Tyrant, Hellbutcher, Insulter of jesus christ, Vengeance from Beyond

 

Bands deemed acceptable are ones who fulfil the brothers’ criteria of who is allowed to claim affiliation to the genre. The theological…

– Yes, states Tyrant, it goes without saying that black metal should have a satanic message.

… and a genuine devotion to the lifestyle the brothers have wholeheartedly embraced.

– Certainly, says Hellbutcher, black metal is ‘metal’.

Sub-genres like ‘depressive suicidal black metal’ holds little appeal for the brothers.

– Losers seeking unity in misanthropy, says Tyrant while shaking his head, pathetic – they must die.

– I usually stay off the internet, says Hellbutcher, but once in a while I can’t help myself and have a look around. I end up spending a few seconds on one of these forums, which infuriates me to the point that I must remain in a dark room, cradling myself and rocking back and forth for two days straight. They spew forth their quasi-intellectual rubbish, praising worthless demos and finding in them great depth.

A recent phenomenon that gets more prevalent for each passing year is a younger generation of black metal enthusiasts with no traditional metal background, whose first encounter with metal music was its extremities. This is especially apparent when young bands mention role models; here, Norwegian acts are usurping bands like MERCYFUL FATE, SODOM, JUDAS PRIEST and CELTIC FROST.

– True – and aren’t they all really good, says Tyrant with heavy sarcasm, so amazing that one might almost regress into childhood.

– You won’t believe what I heard, proclaims an agitated Hellbutcher, I don’t remember their names now but supposedly there are bands who claim to play black metal – all the while listening to KENT!

He shakes his head in outrage, adopting a face that can only be described as an amalgamation of astonishment and indignation.

– Things like that… let me be entirely clear here – I’m completely against it. This behaviour is entirely unacceptable, to one hundred percent! Trying to come across all…

He deliberates for a few seconds before snarling:

– Suit! Sophisticated black metal is a contradiction. Take POISON from Germany for instance – just standing there with oily, filthy and torn jeans, looking like old men. I think that’s black metal.

What’s upsets the twins even more is bands that go so far as to disassociate themselves from traditional metal culture.

– How dare you claim to be black metal if you’re not metal, asks Tyrant, why do you even want to be associated with something you know nothing about? Lost causes.

Hellbutcher is somewhat more merciful.

– I suppose that’s where we come in, to re-establish order and lead by example. We need a new album with real metal.

How do you view the future of the genre?

– One would have to assume that everything will keep getting worse, prophesises Hellbutcher, even if it boggles the mind how that’s even possible. I reckon it’s already begun… I’ve spoken to youngsters – eighteen-year-olds and such – who don’t think NIFELHEIM is black metal since we don’t have non-stop blastbeats. So, we’ve suddenly started drifting from the genre because it itself is changing, we don’t fit in anymore. All of a sudden, we’re just an ordinary ‘metal band’. That’s as clear a sign as any that they have not the slightest clue of idea what they’re talking about.

– I hope it all dies out, Tyrant proclaims, the whole genre. So that we can finally reclaim it, bring it back to baseline.