Progressive metal has been gaining popularity among progressive rock fans, with many former extreme bands and former members of extreme bands dropping their brutal facades and exposing the full spans of their creative genius through dark, brooding melodies and experimentation. Yet, it was still a surprise when Rune Eriksen left the metal band most associated with extreme behavior, Mayhem, to devote himself to Ava Inferi, his band formed in Portugal. Ava Inferi has allowed Eriksen to amply show that he deserves a place among the pantheon of progressive rock/metal guitarists, yet three albums in, he and Ava Inferi are still very much an undiscovered treasure.
First, I want to thank you for doing this interview. In addition to leaving Mayhem, there have been some other changes in your life-I believe you live in Portugal now?
R: Yes, well I moved to Portugal already in February 2004 actually, just after finishing off the recording for Mayhem´s Chimera. It was time for some changes and I found what I needed in Portugal so to speak. Time and distance for reflection.
Have you had any change in how you write your music? If I recall, at least for Chimera and Ordo Ad Chao, you would isolate yourself in cabins.
R: The cabin thing was only for the recording part actually, as the actual songs were written mostly at home.
I don't feel that there are too many differences in the way I'm writing my music. Actually, I believe it's based more or less on the same creative "moments" as before.
However the biggest change is in my own personal life and what I want to transmit and to receive with the music. I feel I have grown immensely the last 2-3 years and my goal and purpose has expanded, naturally, along with the developments we all go through in life. While I was playing in Mayhem there was always a darker motivation and vision that would lead to the final results, whereas today it's many things that can attract my attention, give me inspiration and further be a base for a new musical idea. That has been the biggest change as of today, as I feel more relaxed, more private and more intimate with my music and my surroundings. I have in a way been able to find a more tranquil source within myself, which some of my works in Ava Inferi bear witness of I believe. Another change, on the mundane level is that I have more equipment and more means to realize the visions I have instead of carrying them into the studio and try to work out something similar there. I can do pre-productions and pre-arrangements. In other words, having access to drums and pianos etc in my own living room has indeed helped to awaken my musicality and all the possibilities.
What inspired you to form Ava Inferi?
R: Basically because I needed to let go of some other musicalities that couldn't fit in Mayhem. You know, coming home after intense tours (Chimera period) etc made me seek more introverted vibes in a way. The voice of reflection perhaps. Also, of equal importance, I felt like creating my own entity and altering my path to a certain extent. To have the vibrant feeling of starting something fresh and "unspoiled" and to form a new path of energy, if you know what I mean. I was and will always be a creative artist, that will never change. It is indeed my essence. But these things didn't go hand in hand for me in Mayhem, it just didn't. No offence of any kind towards Mayhem or who and whatsoever, but I guess you can see that on the releases and the time frequence between them as well. Surely we did a lot of tours, but the time off was never synonymous with quality time or productive time either. Some things had to change. It ended up killing my creativity, and it made me apathetic. I left something of myself in that band that I can never recover again. The shell of blind hate perhaps. That being said, I still get the occasional drive to release tense and fast music, I believe that comes in the whirlwind of my energy.
To flip things around a bit; I have already completed the 4th Ava Inferi album in the bands 5th year of existence you know, showcasing my passion and creative will in a totally different manner than before.
How did you and the other members meet?
R: I met Carmen while I was on vacation in Portugal back in 2002. I was living in Oslo at the time and I hooked up with a friend couple of mine, also from Oslo, to hang out in Lisbon and to get drunk for 5-6 days. They happened to know Carmen from earlier visits so already the 1st night we found the chemistry in between us.
Since then we have been together actually. A romantic little story, hehe.
The other members came into the band via Carmen's friends...
The Silhouette has a definite difference in your playing-a lot less of the "Mayhem" sound-than in Burdens? Was this intentional or do you believe it was a natural progression in your musical direction?
R: Nothing in my music in Ava Inferi is purely intentional when it comes down to the creative momentum. I believe that would weaken the music, basically. What comes out is the voice of me, so to speak. However, for "The Silhouette" I guess you can say that I wanted to avoid using too much of the minor chords which I frequently used in Mayhem, so in this way it's safe to say that I directed the energies away from the trap of repetition. In this way the album (The Silhouette) has a touch more of the major harmonies, in which I find very interesting. To actually realize that there is more than 1 way to make music sound melancholic and/or dark atmospheric.
Blood of Bacchus on the other hand has all of the above. Stronger, slightly more intense and perhaps a tad more peculiar as well. A different and unique album, in my opinion, few has discovered as of yet. Anyhow, we are set for album nr 4. Not wasting any time.
Do you think your change in direction from the extreme guitar you did in Mayhem, Aura Noir and Mezzerschmitt to the more elaborate work you do with Ava Inferi has been well received by fans?
R: Hard to tell. I guess there are some who is really into it and we have those who totally loathe it. But that's totally understandable. What I find most amusing though is that it seems like people believe that if you have done extreme music, or still do, that there is no chance that you can do something like Ava Inferi as an example. It is either black or white. But really, nothing is. It's using what you have access to and what fits you there and then. (Although, I do find Ava Inferi a tad extreme in its own way)
I find it really refreshing and renewing to work in Ava Inferi, and I feel very comfortable in this position as it really delivers the "intimate me. The overly extreme attitude is washed away by experience and knowledge, yet as a result of that I know where to find the "controlled darkness" as well.
Quite a few of the black metal musicians and bands that started off extreme, such as yourself, Ihsahn and Ulver, seem to have drifted more into progressive metal. Do you see this as a natural direction or "maturing" of black metal?
R: I believe I see things very differently now than what I did when I was in my late teens or my early 20s. I believe that goes for everybody, really. I thought I knew it all when I was younger, as everyone else does when they are at that peak. It's the age of the neophyte, and so must it be. But things have a very peculiar way of coming through, you know. The truth and the state of things will always come for a day, that is my experience anyway. So basically, to answer the question; it's the natural direction for me. Going back to the origins, in a way. Re-discovering yourself. However, this wouldn't mean I'm totally through with extreme metal obviously. This particular music will always have a place in me, but I guess it's safe that the philosophy behind and the knowledge I have about it has changed...
Where do you see yourself and Ava Inferi in the future?
R: I believe we will be around for a long time. Keep releasing albums with a desired time in between and working as hard as we can getting around the world to promote it. Hopefully we will gain a respectable reputation as well, allowing us to fulfill what we have started. I also sense that rather sooner than later people will get their eyes opened, and they will see that we actually promote something highly authentic and different, sort of our own peculiar style of dark gothic doom metal, that also might need some time to sink inn. But its all worth it;)
Are there any projects you are working on outside of Ava Inferi? Are you still working with Aura Noir?
R: Yeah, we are very busy with the next Aura Noir album these days, which hopefully will see the light of day in the fall sometime. We will then do some sporadical touring across the Europe and also the US I believe. Looking forward to that. I am also doing the "solo" album, which is to be recorded and released early next year. I write "solo" as it is still uncertain which ones who will be involved in the end, when or how etc. I have already 1 confirmed participant though, but Id like to keep it underground for now. It's a long term thing basically, but it will be a trademark "Blasphemer" style album, done in slight "industrially bleak" and doomy way. As of now I have like 5-6 "skeletons" of songs that I'm working on, all in between the other things I'm involved with. Everything when its due.
I am also a part of a Bathory tribute act named Twilight Of The Gods who will perform some European Festivals this summer. We are focusing on the epic, viking era of Bathory with songs from "Blood, Fire, Death" up until " Blood On Ice". Other members include Alan Nemtheanga (Primordial), Nick Barker (x-Cradle, Dimmu), Frode Glesnes (Einherjer) and Patrik Lindgren from Thyrfing. A real treat to be a part of such a professional and positive gang, who all share the same passion for the viking era Bathory.
Last but not least, (yeah, the list is long hehe) is a project I'm doing with Nader Sadek, an Egyptian artist whose gathered some forces to release an album later in the year. Others members include Steve Tucker and Flo Mounier. More to come on that one...
What influenced you to take up music? Were there any musicians or bands you found particularly influential as you were developing your style?
R: I don't know, my older sister perhaps. My father also to a certain extent, as he was doing this "The Shadows" cover band back in the days and I still remember him practising at home with his guitar. My sister was the first one to give me a proper peak into the metal world though, as she was heavily involved in all the 80s metal etc. She even brought me to my first ever proper show, it was Motorhead "No Lights Over Europe" back in 1985 at Jordal Amfi in Oslo. I was 10 years old and no need saying it changed my life dramatically. I guess after that I was consumed by it and many more shows were attended. I remember seeing among others Gary Moore, Motley Crue, Dio, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, all in the mid 80s. The "magic" period of traditional heavy metal music.
Now that you are a veteran musician, the typical "veteran musician" question-are there any bands or musicians out there now that impress you?
R: The ones that impress me are the ones who never give up fighting for their thing, and those who always seems to deliver something unique and fresh despite long years in the business.
What bands or projects were you in prior to Mayhem?
R: I played in a Death metal band called Testimony back in the days. It was inspired by the biggest Death Metal bands from the late 80´s such as Death, Obituary, Pestilence and so on. We actually named the band after Pestilence´s "Testimony Of The Ancients". We then released a demo called "Enter Obscurity" in 91 I believe which had me on vocals and guitar. Actually, we even did a support job for Kreator in Oslo back in 1992 also, during their "Renewal" European tour. The band had a certain future prospect actually as we generated some media attention along the way, but I was getting more and more fascinated by the whole thing surrounding black metal at the time, so I abandoned everything to pursue that.
How did you get together with Mayhem? I know you were outside of all the antics that went on prior to you joining on.
R: As we split Testimony I started to hang around a lot more in Oslo. There I met with like-minded and other passionate aspiring black metallers, hehe. I was one of them too, seeking the more extreme sides of life. It was during this period things started to change, rumours were flying about me as a decent guitar player, and one thing led to another and suddenly I found myself in the rehearsal room in Oslo used by Mayhem, Arcturus, Ulver etc.
I was invited up there by Hellhammer, who at that time had a band aside Mayhem, called Mortem. The band was consisting of different members from abroad, and also included Sverd from Arcturus. I tried out on guitar and we made some riffs etc together. It went on for some months I remember, then suddenly an abrupt fight with me and the vocalist versus the rest of the band ended in my detraction from the "scene". I stayed away from Oslo for a year or 2, focusing on getting my own project together. All this was during the heavy media circus with the murder of Euronymous etc. Then suddenly one day, during September 94 Hellhammer called me up at my parents place, asking if I wanted to join Mayhem on guitar. At the time I didn't really see any other appealing nor rewarding path, so I accepted...
I actually had very little knowledge about Mayhem aside the tabloid blabber, and of course what I had heard of the "De Mysteriis…" album, but I did recall seeing them at a show back in 91 or so, without getting too impressed. If I only knew back then I would be playing with them 4 years later....
Ordo ad Chao is your swan song with Mayhem-did it turn out as you planned?
R: Kinda yes. I wanted to cross all borders and do something off the wall, in which I managed to a certain extent. In retrospect, it could have been better of course, but that's how it is with all albums when you look back at them. There is always something you want to change. Still, to this day, I see Grand Declaration Of War as the best Mayhem album, from a musical point of view but also seen as a thematic album. Ordo Ad Chao is a good number 2 though.
Do you ever plan to bring Ava Inferi to the United States? Would you be interested to do American festivals such as NEARfest or CalProg?
R: We would love to tour the United States with Ava Inferi. We have been in talks of doing some things over there actually, and I am fairly certain we come over when the 4th album is out. That is the plan anyways. All shows and festivals greeted with open arms.
When can we expect another album by Ava Inferi?
R: Well, Blood Of Bacchus came out in May 2009, so we feel that album still to be important obviously. However, the process for the next album is more or less done and we will prepare for the studio sessions during June this year. Hopefully we have something out by October or so. Exciting times ahead!
Anything you'd like to say in closing?
R: Thanks a lot for the interview, and the patience. Check out www.myspace.com/avainferi or www.coven-of-avainferi.com for more info about the future of our works.
Publisher's Note-Thanks to Jen for this great guest interview!