Interview with Hellhammer conducted by Dmitry Basik June 1998
Thanks to Dmitry Basik for use of the interview.
Hellhammer. A masterly drummer, one of those who started the Norwegian black metal revolution, the person who managed to create the real masterpieces in black music... He never was the ideologist of the “revolution”, he was just around. He was a witness. “The main ideologists” are dead or imprisoned. Hellhammer is still alive and keeps on playing. In the telephone call Hellhammer told us the true story of his life. It was the beginning of the ‘90s, the dark time of burning churches, murders and a new era of black metal music. The time of terror and tragedy...
“I don’t have a real education, I finished an ordinary secondary school. School life was pretty dull for me but I enjoyed it anyway. I never did my homework but still managed to get very good marks. It was quite natural for me, ha ha! Sitting at home and studying was the worthless thing to do as I was pretty much into football and - later on - into wrestling and sports. I didn’t do my homework but that wasn’t a problem anyway. I was twelve - thirteen years old when I told my parents that I liked to play drums. Of course, I couldn’t but I did want my mother to buy me a drum kit.
“I enjoyed looking at drum kits and people playing drums. When I looked at drum kits my blood pumped up. So, I wanted to play drums but I couldn’t. That’s why I asked my mother to buy me a drum kit. I didn’t know how to play drums so I just played with records. Later then I showed to some of my friends what I could do. Well, I could play something and they were like: “Wow!”
“When I was fourteen or fifteen years old I was mostly involved into heavy metal like IRON MAIDEN and that kind of stuff, but I was also into other types of music like DEPECHE MODE and DURAN DURAN. Later I was influenced by the harder bands: CELTIC FROST, VENOM. It was a quite different experience for me because that was the music I was hearing in my head, but none of the bands, that I had heard before, actually played it! So, when I first heard that row and very dark, very intensive sound I was really thrilled. It was the kind of music I wanted to play.
“Later on I got under the influence of jazz. My drums teacher was into that kind of stuff. I didn’t start playing double base at once, I played a simple four-piece kit, jazz kit. I think that was very good for me, because then I learned the foundations of playing. After that I got involved into tom drums, and later - into a second base drum.
“My parents have always been very supportive. I played for seven hours a day sitting in my room without even stopping for drinking or eating. I never heard anything against it! My whole family was very supportive. My grandmother bought me my second drum kit, and so she bought me the third one, ha ha! They were into the music I played, actually. I guess my parents really wanted me to find a job and earn some money, but they never said anything to me. They just encouraged me. And actually I didn’t have to work back then as my parents had money and thus I had everything I wanted. So, the relations in my family were very good. And my parents still support me one hundred percent. They don’t like MAYHEM and the satanic stuff because my family are Christians. But they do appreciate the music and they appreciate the things I am doing. But I am not a Satanist either. All the satanic things don’t have any meaning for me. For me it’s just the music.
“I joined MAYHEM in 1988 but before that I played in some local bands. I lived in some hour drive from the capital of Norway, Oslo. So, once I drove to Oslo and heard that MAYHEM needed a drummer. Well, I just listened to their record “Death Crush” and I liked it... Friends of mine arranged our meeting. I took my demo tape with me. So, they listened to my demo tape and the other day they called me and told me that I was in...
“One of the first bands I played in was BLOODY MARY. I don’t actually tell a lot about that time. Well, there isn’t much to say. We used to play heavy metal but our songs were never recorded. We played a couple of ordinary small gigs, that’s all. I remember I was a bit nervous, but just a little. I didn’t worry about the state my drums were in back then. Today I do care about it. The major problem for me was the broken plastics and splashes; I bought the thickest drum sticks at a shop and hammered with them like hell. I don’t have such problems nowadays: I bought the thinnest drum sticks...and learned how to play, ha ha!
“Thus I had played in several school bands when one day I saw an advertisement saying that MAYHEM needed a drummer...”
Everything Here Is So Cold
Everything Here Is So Dark
I Remember It As From A Dream
In The Corner Of This Time
Diabolic Shapes Float By
Out From The Dark
I Remember It Was Here I Died
By Following The Freezing Moon
MAYHEM “Freezing Moon”
“My friends introduced me to the musicians of MAYHEM. Their names were Euronymous and Dead. I met them and gave them the tape with my recordings. The next day they called me up to tell that I was in. Euronymous looked like a very pleasant guy. Of course, he was a bit strange. I came to his house: he was all dressed in black and there was a knife hanging on his belt. I remember I thought: “What the hell does it mean?” Dead joined the band a few months earlier than me. He was a Swede and didn’t understand a lot what we were talking about. Well, he was a strange guy. A very reserved person. It was impossible to discuss personal things with him. Soon after we got into everything that was connected with death, the dark side of life and Satanism. I would always like those things in spite of the fact that I was born in a Christian family. Only years after I realized how weird and how harmful it was for us. But I was too young to resist my temptation for Darkness. I found some books where different rituals were described. Later on we realized our knowledge into the real life... Euronymous was involved most of all. He was our teacher. Now I know he got too far, too far. And Dead followed his steps. Soon Euronymous and Dead became even grimmer and more reserved. On the contrary, I have never been a grim person. But those two... Frankly speaking, I didn’t manage to perceive all that Satanic thing. I was attracted by a dark, sinister image, but I didn’t feel any anger for Christianity. Euronymous and Dead hated it. “Christianity is evil,” they used to say. But I asked them: “Ain’t it evil what we are doing?” I never got an answer to this question.
“Before the shows Dead used to bury his clothes into the ground so that it could start to rot and get that grave scent. He was a “corpse” on a stage. He was one of the first to use make-up that soon became so popular among black metal musicians. In fact, he was the first black metal musician to use corpse paint. Once he even asked us to bury him into the ground - he wanted his skin to become pale. He had used corpse paint before MAYHEM in his previous band MORBID. He acted the corpse and he called himself “dead”. He looked really great with all his make-up! When seeing us the public got really crazy. Some people, of course, didn’t understand us, but the most part thought we were just cool... I took my name from CELTIC FROST. Their previous project was called HELLHAMMER, and I thought it was a shame that such a good name had to disappear. And “hellhammer” sounded as a good name for a drummer, I thought.”
Visions of that no mornings
light ever will come. I'm to old now.
The dark is so near, will I ever reach the land beyond
This is where we go when we have to die.
I've been old since the birth of time.
Time buried me in earth centuries ago,
I tasted blood. Buried by time and dust.
MAYHEM “Buried by time and dust”.
“In the beginning of the ’90s we rented an old deserted house in the forest. We needed a place for rehearsals, so we ended up in that house. It would take twenty minutes to get to the nearest shop, and we had to go by train to the nearest town. People who walked by our house, fastened their steps. They were afraid of us. And teachers from the nearby schools told children: “Do not come up to this house. The house is haunted!” Everybody hated us, but we enjoyed it. Euronymous was busy with his label and spent all the days typing something. I played drums and Dead would lock in his room being permanently depressed. So that was the way we lived: each of us was in his own world. Euronymous and Dead didn’t get along well. Dead didn’t trust Euronymous. The verbal fights turned to real bloody beatings. I got tired of their quarrels and moved to my grandmother’s, coming back merely to rehears. One day I decided to go to Oslo with my friends. Before the departure I met Dead. He was grim and depressed: “Look, I bought a big knife. It’s very sharp.” Those were the last words I heard from him.”
How beautiful life is now when my time has come.
A human destiny but nothing human inside.
What'll be left of me when I'm dead, there was
nothing when I lived.
What you found was eternal death
no one will ever miss you.
MAYHEM “Life Eternal”
“Euronymous was leaving with me that day. He went to town on his label’s business. Some days later, when Euronymous came back, the house looked deserted. The front door was locked and there was no key in our secret place. Euronymous went round the house and noticed that the window to Dead’s room was opened. He got to the house and saw Dead lying on the floor: a part of his head was blown away by the gun’s shot. Euronymous hitchhiked a car to the nearest town to buy a film for camera. Then he returned and made a shot of Dead’s corpse. I was surprised at having noticed that the knife laid on the gun. It should lay under it... May be Euronymous never went to town that day... When Euronymous called me, he was not talkative. “Dead went back home,” he said. “Back to Sweden?” I wondered. “No, he’s blown his head.”
“Then I realized that Dead was dead. Police took the Dead’s body but we would live in the house for a few more weeks. Dead’s blood and pieces of scull were all over the room. Once I looked under his bed and found two big pieces of scull. I took one piece and Euronymous took the other. We made amulets out of them. Later on we lost them somehow. It’s strange... Well, Dead’s death didn’t stop us. We decided to find a new vocalist and bass player and continue MAYHEM. We would audit for a while and soon the line-up was gathered. That time Grishnackh played bass... I liked him from our first meeting: he was an intelligent guy. He stood out from other musicians, he was unique... He was modest and polite... Soon our band turned to “Inner Circle”. I was always against of church burning: that didn’t make any sense! But the others thought it did. Well, they shocked the whole Norway! They never pressed on me. I was not involved into the things they were doing. No one really knows why Grishnackh murdered Euronymous. I assume it was a personal conflict between them.
On the day of Euronymous’ death I called him at the office. Nobody picked up the phone. Then I called his parents hoping to reach him there. I was told that Euronymous was murdered the night before. I was shocked. I didn’t know who did that, but I was sure it could be the Swedes. There were constant conflicts among Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish clans. Dead bodies were found everywhere. My friends and I took knives and guns preparing to defend ourselves. We were waiting for the worst to happen. But soon we learned that Grishnackh was Euronymous’ murder. Yeah, that shy boy turned out to be a killer. I couldn’t even realize he could do that! My friends from “Inner Circle” and I were called to trial...
Not long before his death Euronymous became a member of the Communists party. He thought the events that took place in Russia were the real evil. Then he read Marx - he was disappointed. Marx wanted people to love each other. And Euronymous turned to Fascism. He always wanted to belong to the most extreme part of the society.
He was twenty four when he was murdered...”
“I found another line-up and resurrected MAYHEM. I must say that music has always been the most important thing for me. I was not interested in Satanism. And... is it possible to follow all the formulas, all the restrictions of Satanism?! Of course, not! I didn’t support Euronymous accusing everybody at posing and stuff. I know personally the guys who were blackshipped by Euronymous, they were quite normal people. Thus, MAYHEM is no longer a Satanic band. And what is Satanism? Who are the Satanists? Grim guys, being depressed, the rich who neglect all the society rules or hippie, who claim they can foresee the future? Satanism is something very personal. No one in the band is a Satanist. Moreover, we are not a political band either. I prefer good musicians to Satanists. But still we are MAYHEM and we still continue to play our music. Our new mini-album “Wolf’s Lair Abyss” resembles MAYHEM of the early ‘90s. Of course, it is more aggressive and much better recorded. This is the product of the modern day. But still it is just a mini-album. Our full-length album will be titled “Grand Declaration Of War”. It will be a real killer! Mini-album is just the bridge between past and present...”
“A few words about my projects. I played in IMMORTAL, EMPEROR, COVENANT and ARCTURUS. These are, of course, the main bands I played in. In general, I have played in twenty five bands, ha ha! I didn’t stay long in EMPEROR, just for a year or so. We joined the band with ARCTURUS keyboard player, but managed to record only one song within that year. EMPEROR’s practice room was too far from my house, and, besides, I was already involved in ARCTURUS. It was rather complicated for me, that is why I split with EMPEROR. The atmosphere in the band was rather good, but I liked the one in IMMORTAL better. IMMORTAL had to tour with MORBID ANGEL and they invited me to fill in for that tour. I really enjoyed the tour, though it was very hard to do your best every day within forty minutes. After the tour I was invited to the band as a permanent member, but I refused to: I would have to drop MAYHEM, job, family. They lived in ten-hour-drive from my house! No, I cannot change MAYHEM for another band! But I really like Demonaz and Abbath: they are so cool and funny, ha ha! We drank so much! I heard the guys said my way of drumming didn’t quite fit the band, but it is not true. I told them that to approve my quitting. I just didn’t want to drop MAYHEM, you see. ARCTURUS is not merely a project, it was one of the main bands of mine. In fact, I and the keyboard player founded the band. We played together in the late ’80s and even released a single. Then I switched to MAYHEM and we put aside the project for a certain time. Many years after we resurrected the project and started to work. The line-up was changed a lot of times, and I will not mention all the musicians, there are too many of them. Well, we presently have a very successful album “La Masquerade Infernale”...
“A lot of bands would invite me to play with them but for most part I had to refuse their offers. Either I had no time or their music didn’t attract me. It was quite different with COVENANT. I felt a certain potential in the band, that MAYHEM and some other bands, I played in, seemed to lack. That’s why I joined the band. At first - as a session musician, later - on the permanent basis. So, presently I am working with three bands at once. I don’t really enjoy the music of COVENANT, but I do like to play drums in this band. I have to be very accurate, this is not a speedy black metal. But still I was experimenting when at studio rather than playing some learned in advance parts. I think next time I enter the studio with COVENANT, I will bring the notes with me...”
“Some people might think that we, the musicians of MAYHEM, earn a lot of money from playing music. But we are not rich, at least for Norway. MAYHEM doesn’t bring me enough money for living, that is why I have a job. It would be perfect if I could earn money playing music only, but then music would have become a job for me and I would have lost some pleasure. I work as a night guard in a hospital for mentally deranged people. I used to work in the security company of my father, but I had to work there too much back then. I prefer working the night shift. My girlfriend’s mother works at the hospital, so when I asked her if she had any vacancy for me, she offered me the vacancy of the night guard. I have been working at the hospital for four years already! This job suits me as I am into sports since childhood and that’s why in a good shape. And, you know, looking at all these deranged people, I come to the conclusion that I am not that hopeless, ha ha! I have an electric drum kit at home. I have a house of my own, but presently I live at my girlfriend’s. I am not going to get married now, but who knows?.. I usually wake up at twelve o’clock, have breakfast and head to the gym hall where I am practicing for one hour. Then I dine and practice my drums. Sometimes I watch video schools. I have supper and then go to a rehearsal. The rehearsal takes normally three hours. I spend evening with my girlfriend, then drive to the hospital. I don’t smoke and drink very little alcohol. I like reading and watching TV. Actually, I am always reading something. It may be horror stories or some magazines for drummers. What is my greatest love? My drums!”
“If I stop playing metal, I will continue to play drums anyway. I have been a session musician for fifteen years already, and I also play pop, jazz and rock. Whatever. My destiny is to be a drummer, and I will be the one till I die.”