Meet Fenriz, the black metal hero who is now an Oslo councillor

Darkthrone are a black metal band revered for their corpsepaint trilogy. But frontman Fenriz just became a politician – thanks to his cat. He talks us through his busy diary

It’s easy to leap to conclusions about someone who calls himself Fenriz, and who plays in a band called Darkthrone with someone called Nocturno Culto. But those conclusions probably wouldn’t be the right ones. You might not expect, for example, that someone who became an underground legend thanks to a trio of black metal albums known as the “corpsepaint trilogy” works in the postal service. Still less might you expect that he is a councillor in Kolbotn, in the suburbs of Oslo.

Considering how apolitical black metal has always purported to be, it seems a bizarre turn of events. Much to the chagrin of Fenriz (real name Gylve Nagell), the news went viral earlier this year and, despite a request from his PR not to broach the subject, he feels duty-bound to explain.

‘I’m crazy about my borough’ … Fenriz with Peanut Butter.
‘I’m crazy about my borough’ … Fenriz with Peanut Butter. Photograph: Oppegård Venstre/Facebook

“The reason for me saying yes to standing was that they just needed someone on the back-up list. It happens frequently in Norway.” His campaign consisted of a photo of him with his cat, Peanut Butter, and the caption: “Don’t vote for me.” But they did.

“People say yes to standing so the council can actually run, then they wind up with a lot of votes and have to do stuff they didn’t picture themselves doing. But I took it as a chance to see how this borough works, because I really care about it. I’m crazy about it.”

This brush with the political world has clearly been an unwanted distraction: he would rather spend his time talking about music. So, switching from Councillor Nagell to black metal legend Fenriz, he turns to the matter at hand: Darkthrone’s 16th studio album, Arctic Thunder. Nothing much has changed in the 30 years since the band formed, except that Fenriz is busier than he’s ever been.

Although his band are notorious for their stout refusal to perform live (their last gig was in 1996), Fenriz can hardly be accused of not putting the effort in: alongside his day job as a postal worker, and his council position, the 44-year-old also works part-time as a music journalist, hosts an increasingly popular Soundcloud radio show, and has an obsession with unearthing new music and promoting it with rabid enthusiasm.“Last year was brimming full of excellent releases,” he says. “I had to buy a lot of vinyls! But this year has been sort of a breather. I’ve ordered maybe eight or nine, partly because I told myself I can’t really do so many any more. I’m getting old and the space in the head isn’t there. The sadness is that what I really want to do is go home at the weekend and listen to some of the vinyls from last year.”

One of the most ebullient and eccentric figures metal has ever produced, Fenriz has long been a hero in the underground scene, primarily because Darkthrone have spent the last 30 years demonstrating that it is possible to stick to your principles and shrug off the interfering hands of the music industry. A duo since 1986, Fenriz and guitarist/co-singer Ted “Nocturno Culto” Skjellum helped to define the Norwegian black metal sound that erupted amid church burnings, murders and endless controversy in the early 90s, with impossibly raw and primitive albums like 1991’s A Blaze in the Northern Sky and its almost comically lo-fi follow-up Transilvanian Hunger.

But, while their peers were desperate for attention, Darkthrone never made any attempt to curry favour with underground militants and have always seemed to exist outside their native scene. Nevertheless, everyone wants to talk to him about the new Darkthrone album. “I did 104 interviews for the last record and it nearly killed me,” he says. “This time, I’m cutting it down to 70. Age is creeping up on me. I went to the doctor and he told me to relax. It’s insane to spend so much time talking about myself and my projects.”

In truth, Fenriz hardly needs to hurl himself into promoting Arctic Thunder. Instantly recognisable as the duo’s work, it’s an epic squall of old-school metal riffing and frostbitten atmospherics that bears little relation to anything else that’s going on in heavy music right now. It sounds like an almost casual demonstration of how things should be done.

As one half of metal’s most revered cult band, Fenriz should probably be a glowering, recalcitrant recluse like Nocturno Culto. Instead, he’s an exuberant enthusiast who meticulously plans his time to ensure he can plough through another stack of new records, make another radio show, and get on with his other work – and of course jobs.

“What I’m seeing here,” he says, “is that we’re a restaurant – the wholesome, family restaurant of Darkthrone. The menu is pretty much always the same, but there’s this guy called Fenriz who always has to twist and turn things, while Nocturno Culto sticks to the steady menu. This restaurant, if it were completely changed, maybe no one would come. Maybe it’s good that we have 50% steady and the rest wacky and new. It’s a stupid metaphor – but I’m a metaphor guy!”

  • Arctic Thunder is out now on Peaceville.


Dom Lawson

The GuardianTramp

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