BYFROST (Mads “Alkolust” Lilletvedt) INTERVIEW
When I first accepted the task to do an interview with the Norwegian Black/Thrash Metal trio Byfrost, I did that as a favour to a friend, not having listened to a single note of their music up until then. What I soon discovered is that with their second studio album “Of Death”, the Bergen-based outfit has created eight compositions of riff-laden, fist-pumping metal whose simplicity and catchiness are so damn contagious that not many people will be able to resist getting their hands on this offering after hearing it. On the night of the 19th of October, I met with drummer Mads “Alkolust” Lilletvedt at the well-known Camden pub The World’s End, where, after being treated to a couple of pints of beer, we discussed the process behind the band’s latest release, their experience of being on the road with fellow-countrymen Taake and also their short term goals which are many and very interesting indeed.
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis.
• Nice to meet you, Mads. I will be very honest with you – when I accepted to do this interview I did so without knowing anything about Byfrost, but now that I’ve had the pleasure of listening to your latest album “Of Death”, I am very happy that I accepted this offer. This is a very impressive album that sounds nothing like what I expected from a Bergen-based band.
Mads: Why? What did you expect?
• Well, when you hear Bergen in connection with Metal the bands that first come to mind are Immortal, Burzum and Taake – bands with a specific approach, one pretty much influenced by early 90s fast pace Black Metal. Now “Of Death” sounds to me, a guy who grew up listening to 80s Thrash, as having been more influenced by bands like Sodom. I really admire this album’s energy, passion and enjoy the way that it demands both your attention and participation! Well done!
Mads: Thank you!
• I have been told that you are the main person behind the creative process of “Of Death”, is that indeed the case?
Mads: That is…I wouldn’t say that. We have HeavyHarms who is our guitar player and vocalist and who’s responsible for many of the riffs but all three of us have contributed equally, I would say, to this album. We all know what we want and we were aiming at creating the atmosphere that we agreed upon, before we even started writing music. This time round, I really appreciate all the nice things that you’ve said about the album because I tend to agree with your comments. We are not trying to be a Black Metal band whose approach is to sound like most classic ones did in the early 90s. We are trying to write sing-along songs but we are also trying to be as aggressive as possible but to still maintain our groove and melody, you know? What is probably very clear on the album is that, yes – we do know how to make heads roll! We think about that, we talk about that all the time, how to make people raise their hands and horns to the sky and sing along and we are writing our music with live shows in mind. We like our songs to be able to be performed live but also to be really enjoyable on a stereo setting, of course! This time round we spent a lot of time working with the production – the guitars, the drums, the vocals…everything! I believe that “Of Death” is a much better sounding album than our previous one (note: “Black Earth”) and it is also more confident musically. I really liked the way all three of us worked together on this album! I was still relatively new in the band when “Black Earth” (2010) came out and we still wanted to keep the style of the “Byfrostmetal” EP (2008) – an effort that was released privately just months before I joined them. We ended up keeping a couple of those early songs and adding them in our debut album so as for me to become better acquainted with the band on a purely musical level. That was what we ended up doing and then we wrote a couple of songs together. My role in the band is to push a guitar riff to the point that it ends up fitting really well onto a drum roll or a beat that I think that is punchy and aggressive enough. HeavyHarms is the one who comes up with the riffs and Ripmeister (bass) also contributes to the creation of riffs but is most into arranging the structure of each song and also our connecting point to True Black Metal – he is the one with real strong roots in the Black Metal world and he always comes up with ideas that make us sound more like we’re from Bergen rather that Florida (laughs).
• You know Mads, one thing that I always found quite interesting is how all those Norwegian Black Metal bands who set the rules of how the second wave of Black Metal ought to play are now looking for other musical avenues to explore while bands from other parts of the world try to sound like Burzum did back in 1993. I cannot understand that!
Mads: That is indeed strange! I don’t want to play in any ‘cover’ band, you know what I mean? I want to create my own music, I want to live it and to write it from the heart and if I hear a riff that reminds me too much of Sepultura or too much of Gorgoroth I will speak out against using it. Maybe I will like the riff or maybe I will not but that will not matter at the end of the day if all it does is to remind me of something that’s already been made by someone else. Then again, we try to write our music, in a sense, as out of context of time. We are not claiming to be playing something that’s new – I mean, we are a new band but we are not trying to re-invent Heavy Metal. We write Heavy Metal music and we write it from the bottom of our hearts! At the same time, we try to stay fresh and what we play is neither old nor new. Probably a lot of people are quite familiar with what we do as we constantly get positive feedback both from the really extreme Black Metal fans and the more moderate fans. We like using melodies in our music; I mean, we are signed to AFM Records which in itself is quite strange, right? We are most probably the hardest band that they have in their roster; I mean, they do have bands like Onslaught but there is a huge gap between what they do and what we do. Us getting a contract with AFM has a lot to do with our overall approach to melody and our song structures which we try to make come across as musically as possible while remaining fairly aggressive and brutal.
• You know, I believe that you are in a way quite lucky that you come out now as a band as this is an era where musical genres are no longer that clearly defined and so a person that loves a band like Annihilator feels quite inclined to attend a Mayhem show. That now is pretty acceptable whereas twenty years ago that would have most likely been an issue. Do you see yourselves as having benefited by that state of affairs?
Mads: Yes, definitely! I didn’t even have to wish for something like that to happen as it was simply there to begin with. It is pretty obvious to us when we see the kind of fans that come to our shows, especially back home where people know us better in comparison to other places in Europe…
(Note: At this moment in time Hoest from Taake decides to come over and say hi, and Mads kindly explains to him that we are doing an interview – all good fun!).
Mads:…that is Hoest from Taake. He’s not doing interviews until the twentieth anniversary of his band, so let’s keep him out of this (laughs). Where was I? Yes, of course…we simply benefit by being us and I believe that this is a great position to be in. We are not trying to be a commercial band or a non-commercial band. We play Rock n’Roll and we are always in the hunt for more aggression while sticking to the core values of Rock music.
• Mads, “Of Death” consists of eight very enjoyable songs, however, there are two that I would like us to focus on, starting with “Buried Alive” which really stood out for me – what I consider to be the best song of the album.
Mads: Yes! This is actually also my personal highlight.
• If you go back to the point that you first started working on the ideas behind the song and you compare them with the way that it sounds like now would you find many changes having taken place?
Mads: It’s funny you should mention that because actually, all the songs that are included in “Of Death” were created in a similar way. We started with “Buried Alive” for which I wanted to come up with a straight-forward beat and so I slowly started building it and I soon found out that HeavyHarms had the perfect riff for it, so you could say that this song evolved quite naturally. Actually every single riff or part that was originally written is still in the song today, so nothing was discarded. This song actually has two faces: it builds up to this enormous beast of energy – pretty much like a Thrash groove, even though when it kicks off it does it in an almost Doom fashion (laughs). Plus you also have, from the very first strike of the guitar, HeavyHarms’ voice which adds a lot of character to the piece. It just really came out quite natural. It is a perfect song for Byfrost, it represents the spirit of the band nicely and shows all the influences and inspirations that we have – both personally, in my case, and also collectively as a band. I tend to find most of my inspiration in the music of Slayer while HeavyHarms is the Iron Maiden fan and Ripmeister is the one that comes up with all the Black Metal grooves, and it is the combination of all these three diverse elements that’s responsible for us bringing out this magnificent kind of music.
• The second song that I want us to talk about is “Sorgh”, which is such a different musical composition when compared to “Buried Alive”. This is the only purely atmospheric offering of the album – one which creates a certain claustrophobic feeling to the listener but which is, in a very strange way, quite inviting! This composition convinced me that Byfrost could easily move into a more atmospheric direction if you so wished. Are you planning on doing more such material in the future?
Mads: Well, we already did a similar thing in our previous album “Black Earth” and the final track which is called “Skull Of God” and also the second best song of the album which is called “Evil Arise” which moves things into a really atmospheric direction – something we came up with while jamming in the studio. What you heard on that recording was just going out of that track and into this atmospheric piece (note “Skull Of God”) that we really wanted to work on. As soon as we started working on “Of Death” we realised that we wanted to do a similar thing here as we really appreciated what “Skull Of God” offered to the “Black Earth” album. I mean, when you put a song like that, which is so different from everything else, in your album, it tends to attract a lot of attention but, on the other hand, you don’t want for that to be the focal point so we limit ourselves in creating a simple atmosphere. Such a song serves the purpose of having the listener finally relax from al, that hard-hitting material that he has been exposed to previously. I actually think that “Of Death” is the kind of record that never really lets you go! From the moment you play the first track, you get a real hammering and so there is no room for you to relax, until this song comes up. Now it is time for the listener to slow down and catch his breath sort to speak and, just as you will start wondering “oh, where is this thing going”, then you get finished off with the last track. I have heard that some people did not understand it and some even felt bored while listening to it but this song was never really written for them – it’s written for people who understand what we’re trying to say with it. The length of it is so over the top – a lot longer than what it needs to be but, then again, I feel that it has to be like that in order to get the point we are trying to make. If you get the song, you will also get the point, and then you move into the final track “All Gods Are Gone” which is also…
• …one of the highlights of the album!
Mads: Indeed! I just like the whole thinking process behind it. The other two guys thought that we should put it at the very end of the album but I was in favour of putting it one before last as I like the way it creates that contrast.
• It really feels like a ‘calm before the storm’ type of thing!
Mads: Yeah, absolutely, and to have this song as a final track, both conceptually and musically…it’s a perfect ending to this album I think and so I am glad that you also recognised it as being an important song for the album.
• Well, you are currently on tour with Taake which is a band that attracts a very specific type of audience and which has a certain reputation based on things that have happened over the recent past. Do you believe that being on tour with them will be a beneficial thing for Byfrost in the long run? Have you learned anything from them during the tour which you might consider applying to your own band at some point?
Mads: I knew the moment we got the offer to tour with Taake that this would be a perfect opportunity for us, Taake being the kind of band that they are, I knew that we would fit with them musically as we do share a similar type of musical aggression. At the same time, both bands are very different which is great. So far in the tour, the fans have really complemented us for our performances and also for the whole package which is indeed really great. When you go to a Black Metal show, you got to see Taake and you know that there will be five or six support bands prior to them you are worried that you will listen to the same style of music the whole evening and that is when you will become surprised by Byfrost which aim at ripping each place apart! We will do that in a way that’s totally different to what you have expected. This whole experience has been very good for us and, hopefully, we will get to do more stuff with Taake. We first joined forces a year ago for a show that we did for Terrorizer back home in Bergen when Byfrost were the main support act for Taake and they were brilliant people to be with and so it was great to tour with them now.
• So, following the end of this tour what are your further plans for the promotion of “Of Death”?
Mads: Well, first of all, we will be going back to Germany to take part in the 15th year anniversary show for AFM Records, our label, where we are going to share the same stage with a great number of bands, all part of the label’s roster. You should expect to have bands like U.D.O. and Onslaught there and so we are really looking forward to being part of that – especially as we are one of the youngest bands in the label’s roster. It’s great for us to go back to Germany and do that show. Then, we are going to experience another ‘calm before the storm’ situation as we are already working on the third Byfrost album and we are also going to be looking to doing more UK dates. So, already this coming winter, there might be some stuff happening in the UK, we’ll see, but we are really serious about doing that as the UK has so far been a very good place for us to come and play, and so I am looking forward to that.
• Well Mads, you have a really good album out, you are certainly quite enthusiastic about it – what thing is left to say other that good luck with everything mate!
Mads: Thank you very much; this was a good interview.
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