by Niklas Göransson
Andreas Pettersson is the proprietor of Nordvis, a record label based in the uninhabited wilderness of northern Sweden. He speaks of an existence at the mercy of nature’s elements, and reflects upon his past in black metal band Armagedda.
– I’ve never really regarded Nordvis as a record company, for the longest time it was primarily a medium for releasing my own music. I actually hate the word label – it reminds me too much of a plain business, but I’ll use it now to avoid confusion.
The dream of Nordvis had followed Andreas Pettersson for a long time, but it wasn’t until 2007 the notion began to take root. He visualised a kind of artist collective, bound together by similar ideals and expressed through a diverse creative output.
– Nordvis rests on the same philosophical foundation as my musical projects LÖNNDOM and SAIVA – a way of life dedicated to nature and the vastness of the north; solitary and simple, yet profound. I worked with a few labels as a young artist but never felt as if they appreciated or perceived the music the way it ought to be. These experiences moulded me and cemented my ideals of what a mutually rewarding artist-label relationship should look like.
Andreas notes how there appears to be a common misconception of Nordvis as some kind of specialised black metal label – this is entirely incorrect.
– In my own opinion, very few artists on my roster have anything to do with black metal. The reason this music is at all part of my operation is because nature usually has a central role.
Nordvis, he says, is more of an ideological outfit as opposed to a genre-oriented one.
– I release music rooted in certain ways of life – if there’s any kind of company policy in place, that would be it. Black metal has a part in this, as has any other genre on the label, but it doesn’t define Nordvis.
My observations indicate that Andreas has a rather personal relationship with many of the artists he works with, often flying them up to his home in the arctic wilderness. At the Stockholm gig with WARDRUNA, FORNDOM and DRAUGURINN – the latter two being tied to Nordvis – I noticed that he’d also brought in several other of his bands and put them up in a hotel together.
– Hah, laid out like that it sounds like I’m running a match-making company. It’s immensely important to me who is part of this family and who is not. It’s also essential that we all strive forward together – creating, presenting, and speaking as one voice. To some extent, this is what makes Nordvis what it is. It’s difficult to explain and I don’t expect people to get it either but as far as I’m concerned, the most important thing is that we understand each other.
Now, if I’m not entirely mistaken you have a fairly unusual living situation…?
– That depends on who you’re comparing with, but these days I suppose it’s somewhat rare for someone in their mid-thirties to reside as my partner and I do. We live in a remote area about forty kilometres outside the small town of Arvidsjaur, in Lapland.
Lapland is the northernmost Swedish province, it occupies a quarter of the country’s surface but has only about 90 000 residents – less than ten percent of the total population. The town of Arvidsjaur is 862 kilometres north from Stockholm. In comparison, Berlin is 810 km.
– We have many neighbours, but none of them human. There’s a small village five kilometres from here with, if I remember correctly, about three year-round residents. I’ve had to work hard to live like I do now, it’s a journey which started fifteen years ago when I was in my early twenties.
Before we look to the past, I’m curious where this journey has taken him – what a normal day looks like up there.
– I like to get up early and have a cup of coffee while answering the first batch of e-mails from the night before, there seems to be no end to them. After that, orders need to be packed and ready to go. And here comes the interesting thing with running a company in the middle of the woods; logistics are hilarious.
When first moving to the property a few years ago, their nearest post box was five kilometres away. The Swedish postal service initially refused to come by to pick up parcels, but Andreas eventually negotiated a deal which has them coming around twice a week.
– That definitely felt luxurious. There are countless times when I’ve had to drive many kilometres to ship packages, so followers would get their orders promptly. I think those who’ve followed Nordvis for some time now understand that we’re based in an area where everything takes time.
As mid-day approaches, it’s time to relax and re-charge. Andreas says he’ll usually go for a hike in his ’back yard’ – meaning, hours worth of untamed woodlands.
– But things are about to change quite a bit now. I’m in the process of moving the label to an office warehouse in a town about forty minutes from here, depending on the season. It’s good to get away from it all when coming home – we have a lot of land that needs work, obviously. Not to mention the relief of finally getting our house back from all the boxes and stock items.
Have you ever been on the verge of giving up?
– The thought occurs to me every day, more or less. Not for dissatisfaction over how things are going, but rather stress from dealing with large amounts of correspondence in the digital sphere –it takes a lot of time away from things I love. Shutting down the computer and never turning it on again is a most appealing thought.
According to Andreas, all this time spent sitting in front of a computer screen is the primary downside to what he does.
– I’m very uncomfortable with social media and all that, but still believe I need to endure it in order to share with the world what we’ve built. This is important. The high points beat the low, obviously. To operate Nordvis is wonderful in many ways, it’s creative and a chance to work together with fantastic, like-minded and interesting individuals.
When leading a lifestyle dictated by unforgiving nature, simple inattentiveness could easily render life-threatening situations
– Having respect for Mother Nature is the best way to survive, we are all tiny in comparison to her. Always thinking twice is a good idea – especially during the winter season you really need to be mindful of what you’re doing.
Reverence before the elements is easily instilled when a swift sojourn to the grocery store could potentially entail mortal peril.
– If your car breaks down where there’s no cell phone service and you find yourself in negative 35 Celsius (-31 F) without enough clothes… well, that’s definitely an unfortunate situation. You’re always far away from help. But that’s life here, and this is what makes it interesting in a way.
Not only is the terrain ruthless, the local fauna is particularly bloodthirsty.
– Were I to tie you to a pine tree on a midsummer night, you’d literally be eaten alive. As simple as that. And likely not by a bear, though that could very well happen, but by the mosquitoes and biting flies.
The further north you get, the more intense the mosquitoes. I’ve never been anywhere near that far up myself, so I can only imagine what it must be like during summertime.
– As with most people living up here, I’m quite used to these flying bloodsuckers. This certainly doesn’t mean I’m not affected, but people who live in these areas learn to ignore them. The first summer was really intense, I remember using a special net hoodie they sell at gas stations around Arvidsjaur. The air was so thick with mosquitoes that had you held up a broom and let it go, it probably wouldn’t have fallen.
Fortunately, there are many tips and tricks to protect oneself – plant lore and fire is a good start. Nature provides many gifts which act as an insectoid repellent when burned.
– Smoke is definitely your friend. Then we have the proverbial big guns; a machine which exterminates the local mosquito population. We have one of those and it’ll be interesting to see what this summer will be like, the third year we’re using it.
This murderous insecticide apparatus has an effective range of approximately four thousand square metres, it traps live mosquitoes and disrupts the breeding cycles of future generations. The only drawback is that it takes several years to carry out the cleansing.
– If we didn’t have this machine, I don’t think any of our friends would ever come here during June, July and the first half of August. Mosquitoes are a nuisance, but I have to say the biting flies are worse.
Andreas is referring to another winged menace known as gnats, miniscule versions of the ordinary mosquito. What it lacks in size is compensated by quantity; they tend to amass in black swarms called gnat clouds – a phenomenon one could say is best observed from a distance.
– Flesh-eating morbid creatures you won’t even see because they’re so small. Up here we have an even worse mutation of them called ’sviarn’ in the local tongue. You know horse flies?
All too well. The little bastard tears off a small piece of your skin, leaving behind a painful and itching bite which can take weeks to fully subside.
– Sviarn do the same, but imagine them as a flying grain of salt that can barely be detected by the naked eye. Anyway, that’s how it goes – nature isn’t only about beautiful sceneries, she can also be damn harsh.
I previously mentioned to Andreas how I also fancy myself somewhat of a rugged woodsman, regularly going for several hour-long hikes in a nearby nature reserve. He was visibly unimpressed.
– I sense that many who claim to be ’outdoors types’ in reality just want to look at pretty nature pictures on their favourite social media feed, and perhaps go for a stroll through the forest when conditions are right.
– Nature is not convenient, and the grim aspects are the price you pay for the beautiful ones. To us, living where we do, this insight is essential. Without cold you won’t have the northern lights. Six months of dark, freezing winter makes one appreciate even more the warmth and brightness brought by summer.
Organic duality is ever present up there – for a few weeks around June and July, the sun never sets over the property. On the other hand, a midwinter’s day has about three hours when it’s not pitch black.
– There are obviously sacrifices of convenience we must make, but they are small in comparison to what we gain in return. I’m not a ’nature lover’ – I belong here and this is my natural habitat, it’s where I was born to be.
In the early 2000s, Andreas was part of Swedish black metal duo ARMAGEDDA. Their third album from 2004, “Ond Spiritism: Djæfvulens Skalder” is in my opinion rather overlooked and underrated. I’m curious how he looks back on it today – seeing as how he doesn’t make a particularly diabolical impression, and if these dirges really were coming from a place of spiritual honesty.
– I’ve never done anything I didn’t believe in, that wouldn’t make sense – at least not in the world I live in. How I perceive it today? To be honest, I try to stay away. I really don’t experiment with those spheres any longer, because I know full well what can be conjured up.
Andreas says he doesn’t remember especially much from the creation of this record – that it’s possessive and infused with an otherworldly darkness. Sounds like it could justifiably be called the devil’s music.
– Yes, that’s exactly what it is – born of the ugliest and filthiest pit, shrouded in grey and conquered by old witchcraft. This was the essence of ARMAGEDDA. My relationship to this is fragile, so I don’t venture there any longer. I enjoy life now, at least the way I live it, and I’d prefer it to stay that way.
I recall being impressed with the lyrics, did you write any of them?
– Yes, or at least something wrote through me. This will doubtlessly sound laughable to some but hey, I don’t care because I was the only one there. Musically, I believe this record to be a unique creation – we’d begun carving out our own style. This was also the point where we felt it best to put the phenomenon to the grave. We’d achieved everything we set out to accomplish, and there wasn’t much more to say or do.
In a previous conversation, Andreas mentioned himself incapable of listening to bands such as FUNERAL MIST these days, since it brings him back into a headspace he’s no longer comfortable with.
– Well, if trying to stay away from something you’re vulnerable to – exposing yourself to it wouldn’t make much sense, right? I keep my distance because I don’t want to live in that world any longer. This means withdrawing from music of great meaning and importance to me, art I used to celebrate and devote myself to. In some ways, that’s a shame.
Can you at all identify with the person you were back then?
– No. If you truly seek to destroy the world of men, what’s the point of continuing to walk the streets and paths of this globe? In my world, that’s hypocrisy. Maybe it works for others but certainly not me, not any longer. Hatred consumes you.
At some point, Andreas figured it would make more sense to focus on himself rather than other people and worldly matters beyond his control.
– Humanity is indeed full of shit these days but it doesn’t really bother me, simply because I’m not there to be bothered. That’s one of the great things about living remotely – removing oneself from civilisation as much as possible. Black metal as an art form is a part of my past, but not so much the present.
Judging by thematic content, this personal metamorphosis must have been something he underwent following “Ond Spiritism” leading up to the 2007 LÖNNDOM album, “Fälen från norr”.
– The idea of LÖNNDOM had probably been there all along. Having grown up in the northern countryside the way we did, we were always fascinated by its vast wilderness as well as its near-forgotten folklore and customs.
Despite the theological shift, he says their transition from ARMAGEDDA to LÖNNDOM came natural since both projects shared certain core pillars.
– We were always outsiders, and never had any urges for fame and riches. Such things didn’t exist in our world. We turned down countless live offers we got from our label, among them Wacken and Inferno Festival.
One offer they didn’t turn down was a 2002 tour with BLACK WITCHERY, MANTICORE and AVENGER. Alas, ARMAGEDDA never completed the tour and there has since been much speculation on the internet – some implying they were ’too black metal’ to tour with people who wanted to have a good time.
– Hah! This feels almost like a different lifetime. Too black metal? That’s a good phrase, maybe we should leave it at that?
I’m curious, were you?
– I honestly couldn’t say. What I do know is that this was a huge contrast for us, being around so many people every day in an environment so very different from what we were used to up here.
With the benefit of hindsight, Andreas admits they didn’t quite realise what they’d agreed to.
– We were young and lived in a world which consumed us, and the other way around. As the tour progressed, I remember a mounting distance between us and the remaining bands. Another memory forever etched in my head is an evening when we found a secluded forest area where we sat down by ourselves with an old tape-recorder, just enjoying the sound of something other than people speaking German. A great relief at the time, to be sure.
He says they found the entire atmosphere around the gigs rather smothering, with what he perceived as a permeating anxious urge for validation.
– A constant hunt for confirmation. ’Hey! Look, I’m in this and this band. Which band are you in?’, ’Oh, you’re not in a band? Well, goodbye.’ Besides, the entire spectacle felt more like a roaming metal party than what we were lured in with – just read the tour statement.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: This is an IDEOLOGICAL minitour with statement and purpose. Unlike most other tours, this is not simply just a random combination of a few bands, but rather a ritual with its own specific concept. “Marching Towards Christian Extermination” is Black and Death Metal UNITED on the same anti-Christian front! Join us, and watch them burn!
– Today, fifteen years later, I couldn’t care less about any of this. To me as a person it was a good experience – and don’t get me wrong – I had interesting conversations with people I’m glad to have met. At some point though, enough was enough.
Andreas says that coming from the individual he’s grown into today, he feels only gratitude for those who made this tour happen.
– I acknowledge and appreciate the massive amount of dedication and time put into it. I’m sure our premature departure caused issues and for that I’d like to send my apologies – especially to Andrew, a friend from the past who did a lot for us back then.
This is when they discovered that metal tours were perhaps not the most appropriate forum for ARMAGEDDA.
– For us it was about individuality, not confirmation from other people and artists. We preferred to dwell in the dark and do our thing with no influence from others. Our approach was entirely independent and almost a bit hermetic.
I’m taking the liberty of assuming there’s no chance of any future ARMAGEDDA material?
– That would be entirely correct. I suppose the only possibility would be if you’d lock me up in an apartment in a big city and threw away the key.