[In the Elder Futhark runic alphabet, the Wyrd is the blank rune. The word ‘wyrd’ is old English, deriving from a common Germanic term, and can be understood as ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’, but should not be understood as the ‘inevitable fate’ of the ancient Greeks –rather, Wyrd can be worked, and the actions of the individual can bend or change it.]
Though Gaahls Wyrd released their debut studio album in 2019, in many ways the band represents a culmination of some three decades of years of blood, sweat and dedication by the vocalist and lyricist from which it takes its name. From his first Black Metal projects, Trelldom and Gaahlskagg, to the better-known Gorgoroth and God Seed (not forgetting the increasingly successful Wardruna, to whom he contributed until 2015), Gaahl has earned a place among Black Metal’s most recognised protagonists, his unearthly voice and formidable stage presence making him unique frontman.
Nevertheless, it can’t be ignored that the vocalist lacked any sort of reliable vehicle for his talents since leaving Gorgoroth, following a notoriously acrimonious split with founding member Infernus way back in 2007. God Seed, formed with fellow Gorgoroth departee King, imploded just as the group were really making a name for themselves, and his first project, Trelldom, has remained dormant since the third album was released in 2007.
Thankfully, Gaahls Wyrd looks to have broken that pattern. Formed in 2015 and originally featuring the talents of Stian ‘Sir’ Kårstad– who played alongside Gaahl in both Trelldom and God Seed – the band has seen the frontman joined by members and ex-members of such respected acts as Borknagar, Svartelder, Sahg, Aeturnus and Malignant Eternal. Initially the band’s repertoire was drawn entirely from the Trelldom, Gorgoroth and God Seed back catalogue, but 2019 opus GastiR – Ghosts Invited proved something of a departure from these foundations. Indeed, the band broadcast this fact with their first single, ‘Ghosts Invited’, showcasing a song that utilises clean vocals while combining classic Goth Rock and Enslaved-style Progressive Black Metal overtones. It’s an approach that can be found elsewhere on the record too, most obviously in the epic march of ‘Carving The Voices’, whose slow pace and moody atmosphere partly recalls Gorgoroth’s Sign Of An Open Eye, despite the crooning.
With the band now emerging from Covid-imposed hibernation, already announcing shows in late 2021 and 2022, as well as apparently having undergone work on new material, it seemed a good time to catch up with the man himself to discuss the band, as well as his various other artistic outlets.
This Is Black Metal: I wanted to begin our conversation by going back to the roots of GaahlsWyrd.You were appearing as a band at some fairly high-profile shows for a long time prior to your first studio release – and even for two years prior to the release of your first live recording –performing songs from other bands, albeit ones you’d previously been a member of. That’s quite an unusual start for a group, particularly in black or extreme metal.
Gaahl: “That’s true, and also the intention basically, because it could have been a studio band, but then it wouldn’t be too important to anyone brought into it, because you don’t have to do the socializing so much. I allowed things to grow pretty slowly and basically made sure that I had with me the right line-up to do what we are doing.”
TIBM: How did you choose the name for the band? You did have your pseudonym in a band name previously, with Gaahlskagg, but of course, that was a project with the guitarist Skagg, so the context was slightly different.
Gaahl: “The rest of the band, they wanted it to be called ‘Gaahl’. And I said,‘No way.’ [Laughs] ‘That’s not going to happen.’But of course, I could see the value of having something recognizable and it’s very difficult to work a completely new band from scratch. So, I went on and thought, ‘We can do it, and then just add a word.’ And then wipe out the ‘Gaahl’ after a while. And then basically we were going from Oslo to Bergen and the word suddenly popped into my mind. And since we would basically build around my universe lyrically, I thought it was a suitable name for both the old songs that I’ve created and also the coming songs.”
TIBM: Are you comfortable with the name now?
Gaahl: “Yes, now it’s okay. It’s always difficult because I feel that the light is… I don’t want the spotlight to be on me solely, I want people to understand that this is actually a band. But it of course deals with my lyrical universe.”
TIBM: Yes, I wonder how many people focus on Ole [Lust Kilman], for example?
Gaahl: “Yeah. It’s something that we’re working on, trying to, because he is the key. Without him the album would never have happened. So he’s a very important piece of the puzzle.”
TIBM: Could you tell us a little bit about the other members of the band before we continue?
Gaahl: “Kevin [Kvåle, otherwise known as Spectre] is an insane drummer is. He’s the youngest one in the band, though he might have older energy than both Ole and Frode [Kilvik, otherwise known as Eld]. I hope to invite him more into the creative process, hopefully in the near future, because he has some musical background that I think we’ll find a good place for in this band. He has a master’s degree in these old, traditional snare drums. So folk music in a way. I’ve heard some of the things that is he can do on this. It’s a fantastic instrument but you’ve got to have a very specific technique to manage to play on it. We use this kind of drum on ‘From the Spear’, just kind of ‘underlining’, but I really like the sound of this. I really feel comfortable within traditional music, especially from the west coast – there is some sort of spirit that I can easily fall into or dive into, and,yeah, gives me the chills.”
TIBM: And what about bassist Frode?
Gaahl: “He’s not been too much involved in the creative part –he has a really good stage presence and I like his way of playing bass as well, but we don’t meet too often, so I’ve not looked too much into his persona. But I like his solutions on the album. We’ll see what he can add in the future. He’s a very eager character., but not necessarily constantly, he has the will but I don’t know how much he is focusing on maintaining the will. But he has his qualities, absolutely.”
TIBM: Is this a line-up that you think will be in place for the foreseeable future?
Gaahl: “Yeah, I’m very comfortable with it. There have been a few stumbles on the way, but they seem to be repaired, without entering more into it. I’m of course also looking for a second guitarist, but it is difficult to find people that work both socially and physically. And also the time schedules need to combine.”
TIBM: You had the very respected Rune Eriksen (Aura Noir, ex-Mayhem, Vltimas) fulfilling that role live with you for a time…
Gaahl: “Yes. He might be my favourite guitarist. He is fantastic. He reminds me quite a lot of Uli Jon Roth, who used to play in Scorpions back in the 70s and then they went onto Electric Sun. The way he communicates with his instrument.”
Gaahls WYRD – Carving The Voices (Official Music Video)
TIBM: Obviously Gaahls Wyrd formed as soon as God Seed came to an end, to the extent that it almost felt like a simple name change. Is it fair to say that Gaahls Wyrd exists purely because of your parting of ways with long-time collaborator King?
Gaahl: “Yes, it is directly from that, the first members in Gaahls Wyrd were everyone in God Seed apart from King. So yeah, when we decided to break up God Seed I already had planned for this band. I had kind of predicted how things would go [laughs].”
TIBM: Looking back, are you glad that shift took place?
Gaahl: “Oh, yeah. Yeah. Of course, there’s been a couple of changes in the line-up since then, with Baard [Kolstad, drums] and Stian [Kårstad, guitars] being replaced… well, Stian has not been replaced, only in the live setup, where we have a session member. Basically, Baard was too busy, too many bands, and Stian, he didn’t want to tour anymore. So, therefore we kind of just refocused.”
TIBM: Do you regret that Stian moved on, given that he was another long-time collaborator, having worked with you since the late 90s?
Gaahl: “In a way it’s positive. You need people that are focused on what you’re doing, and if you don’t have the same joy connected, then it’s better to just cut it out basically. I still will use him in another way, so it’s not like we will stop working together, it’s just that he is not part of Gaahls Wyrd. Because I love him as a musician, especially the way he and Lust played guitar together. I found they fed each other really well, their techniques are really compatible.”
TIBM: Was he ever involved in any of the songwriting for Gaahls Wyrd?
Gaahl: “In the beginning, I had several songs ready where Stian had written the music, but we just threw them out and restarted. As soon as he was out of the band we didn’t want to use his music.”
GAAHLS WYRD – Live at Tyrant Fest 2019
TIBM: As mentioned, in the early days Gaahls Wyrd was performing songs from your earlier bands, and in some ways that made the debut album a little surprising because it didn’t necessarily follow on directly from that material stylistically. Did you consciously want to get away from the material of your other projects?
Gaahl: “Well, I never… [pauses and laughs] I usually just allow things to become what they want to become. Lyrically there’s of course the link, because it’s kind of my universe and the same goes even for Gorgoroth – in some ways it’s the same. It has the same elements, the same visuals and such. So, I don’t feel that there’s too much new in that sense, but still the approach was a bit different, yes.”
TIBM: How is the writing process within Gaahls Wyrd? Is it the case that Lustis writing all the music while you write the lyrics, and then you bring it together at the end?
Gaahl: “Yeah, and then of course we do a bit editing because it kind of needs to match my world. Parts might be removed, and we’re putting things together at the last stage, and, yeah, there is a good dialogue between us. I’m of course very secretive with my colleagues when I work, I don’t allow them to take a peek into what I’m thinking or planning [laughs]. And that’s in a way how I used to work too. Trelldom might be a bit different, but in general, it’s the same work process that I always use. Again, with Lust, we have a very good focus on what to do and he’s also trusting me to develop things. He doesn’t interrupt me as normally would occur.”
TIBM: Is it fair to say you need a certain level of spontaneity when you create?
Gaahl: “Oh, yes, yes. That’s why I really like working in the studio with Iver [Sandøy, engineer and producer on GastiR– Ghosts Invited], he’s managed to understand how I visit my world. I might have a very clear plan, but I still allow things that want to happen, I’m very willing to invite this. I always need the freedom in the process of creating.”
TIBM: Ivar [Bjørnson, Enslaved] was really singing his praises last time I met with him–in what way would you say working with Iver has been different from working with other producers?
Gaahl: “Well, Pytten was one of the first people i worked with, and I really loved working with him as well. But there’s something with Ivar, we have a very good dialogue when I want to explain the reasons why I do things, and he’s also very good at allowing us to continue even though we’ve already recorded what we want to have. ‘Let’s do it again, let’s do it again.’ I really like the approach and he’s tremendously musical as well. Yeah, it’s just very good for me, a very good dialogue. For me to kind of reflect on myself through him in a way. It’s a very positive situation.”
TIBM: When it comes to your vocals do you experiment a lot in the studio then? For example, the songs where you are singing clean, did you try them clean and with screamed vocals, or do you have an idea before you go in at least in terms of your basic approach for each song?
Gaahl: “The way I need to work, I have to hear the vocals in my head first. And then I do. I don’t open my mouth to the microphone until I have heard what I’m supposed to do, basically. It’s not like I’m physically searching for the word. It’s more I sit and focus on,‘How can we execute this voice? ’Of course, I do that in complete silence. So that’s how I work. I never try out things that I’m not certain of. I kind of allow the songs to work in the back of my head. And the day when I go into the studio, I’m like, ‘Okay, today I feel like we should work on this song,’ and then I allow the songs to decide to be created. I might enter a studio and not do anything. So very boring, and very expensive. With Ivar, he recognizes fairly early and says, ‘Okay, we won’t get anything done today. So he is good at being aware of my mood.”
TIBM: Tom [King] once told me that he would sometimes go with you to the studio, and you’d sort of stare at a wall for seven hours and then get up and go home.
Gaahl: “…Yeah [both laugh]. And I’m not necessarily in positive energy when I’m searching. Especially when I have the wrong people near me [laughs].”
TIBM: The fact you use clean vocals for entire songs with Gaahls Wyrd is an obvious shift from your previous Black Metal bands, as well as the incorporation of classic goth rock overtones and Enslaved-style Progressive Metal elements. How did those elements come to the fore?
Gaahl: “I think it’s just natural. That’s where we are in a way. I’ve never heard Enslaved properly, I see a lot of people connecting us to it, but I have no idea what realm they are linking it to. The goth element, I think that’s more in the sound; we worked a bit on the snare, especially on ‘Carving the Voices’, to kind of get a bit of this gothic drum sound.”
TIBM: Were there any specific bands that inspired you there?
Gaahl: “No, it was just more of a reference to a sound that we felt would fit into the energy of the song.”
Gaahls WYRD – From the Spear (Official Track Premiere)
TIBM: What led you to use more clean vocals and, more specifically, to use them throughout certain songs?
Gaahl: “The choice for the voice is something that I do when I close in on the recording process. Back in the day, all the old songs that I did, I used to sing them clean and then distort them. I’ve always kind of worked songs with clean vocals but then gone into the more extreme [vocals for recording]. This time I invited several different characters – I wanted to give tiny references to both dead and alive vocalists. But it’s more for my own sake rather than trying to sound like something else, tiny homages to different vocalists in what I do”.
TIBM: Are there any artists that have a particular presence on the record in that sense?
Gaahl: “Bowie is hugely present on the album. I guess it might be because for the whole summer when I was working in the studio, I, for some reason, got the song ‘Station to Station’ on my mind. I have a tendency to get hooked on songs – I don’t necessarily listen to them, but they have a tendency to invite themselves into my head. During the process of this recording I kind of woke up with that song in my head [laughs], so it’s not self-decided. It’s not a choice I made myself, but it’s something that has chosen to visit me.”
TIBM: What music do you tend to listen to for pleasure?
Gaahl: “Hmm… I hardly listen to music. This year, I think the artist that I’ve heard most is Grace Jones, that’s this year’s choice.”
TIBM: How did you get into listening to her?
Gaahl: “I think I came across her because of ‘Corporate Cannibal’, that track. I kind of just skimmed through her work, and even though it’s music I normally wouldn’t listen to – there’s a lot of Reggae elements and Ska elements to it – I think she managed to manage to create a universe that’s unlike anyone else. She’s a very interesting artist.”
Gaahls WYRD – Ghosts Invited (Official Track Premiere)
TIBM: Do you ever listen to Metal these days?
Gaahl: “I find metal very boring.”
TIBM: Period? Is there anything you still enjoy from the genre?
Gaahl: “Probably it depends on my mood. But it’s a very rare occasion that I would listen to it. It’s more if someone else plays it and it’s in the background. It’s not something I put on myself.”
TIBM: In terms of the lyrical themes of Gaahls Wyrd, songs like ‘Carving the Voices’, seem to be a continuation from your earlier works?
Gaahl: “Of course, it deals a lot with self-awareness and becoming. But it’s still a very esoteric universe, so I personally don’t like to explain the lyrics. People have to pay attention themselves and see what they can get out of it.”
TIBM: I understand…Nevertheless, perhaps you could give me at least a glimpse into what the theme is on the single ‘Ghosts Invited’?
Gaahl: “Phew… Let’s see. I have to give the same answer in a way. There are so many layers topic-wise, it’s not just one single message. But again, the ‘observer’ is of course the essential part. There is a certain distance and again, this awareness, the awareness of the subconsciousness, if that it would make any form of sense. Again, I don’t like to explain things. It’s the reason why we create: they are explanations themselves.”
TIBM: You didn’t include the lyrics, I think, in any physical releases of the record?
Gaahl: “Small fragments from ‘Ghosts Invited’ are there, but they are just essentials that go through
the whole album. But I feel like people should try to pay attention, instead of being spoon-fed with information. People are way too lazy nowadays to observe on their own, they want to be given everything.”
TIBM: That’s true, although I guess one challenge, in this case, is that the vocals aren’t always the easiest to decipher…
Gaahl: “Yeah…that’s good [both laugh]. And of course, I use several dead languages as well. So, it’s not like even if I wrote them down it would help. So yeah, first and foremost, you create for oneself,and then the curious can try to figure out what what’s being told.”
TIBM: Are you still in contact with Tom [King]?
Gaahl: “Yeah. I had a few glasses of wine with him [recently]. I usually don’t collect enemies.”
TIBM: Was it a personal clash between you, and could you ever see yourselves working together again?
Gaahl: “I think we managed to create a lot of good things together. But we are not necessarily getting along in the work process. We are very different animals.Yeah, I have no plans foranything, but I usually do things just because they want to happen. I never force anything.”
Gaahls Wyrd – Steg (LIVE)
TIBM: I guess it’s very unlikely, but I’ll ask anyway: Do you think you could ever work with Roger [Infernus] again?
Gaahl: “I have to give the same answer. It’s a long time since I’ve seen him now, but the last time we met, we left on good terms. I don’t know how creative he is at the moment. He wasn’t the most active when we were together in Gorgorotheither, I think he had burned himself out in the creative process. I really like what he’s done earlier though. I think the last time I saw him was probably a year or two ago. So I don’t know what he is doing.”
TIBM: While we are speaking about old colleagues, it is already a half-decade since you departed Wardruna, which appeared a more amicable parting of ways than the previous examples. Is that a band you could ever see yourself returning to? You’re good friends with Lindy and have continued working with her, and of course, you’re all based in the same part of the world.
Gaahl: “Me and Einar are very good friends, but I kind of don’t see myself working there. But I can easily see me and Einar creating something. For me, Einar is a very comfortable person to work with. We have a very similar approach to the… universe[laughs]. So, he’s one of the few persons I can work with way more directly than anyone else. And me and Lindy are working on several projects [some of which have] not been revealed to the world yet. Yeah, I’m on good terms with all of them.”
TIBM: Can we hope to see more activity from the excellent Trelldom anytime in near future, especially now that Stian has departed Gaahls Wyrd?
Gaahl: “Yes. Well… near future [laughs]. It depends what ‘near future’ is.”
TIBM: Well, less than another 13 years I guess.
Gaahl: “[Laughs] Yeah. At the moment, I’m working with the guitarist [Valgard / Ronny Stavestrand] that did the guitars on the last two Trelldom albums, but it’s not Trelldom. I’ve still not decided the name for that project and I have to disappoint all the metal fans, but it’s not so metal. We’ve invited Lindy to be part of this as well. So we’ll see what happens there.”
TIBM: Do you think that you and Ronnie might make metal again? If you were to work on Trelldom again, would that band remain Black Metal?
Gaahl: “I think Trelldom will basically be something I work with either solely, or with StianKårstad. I feel that Ronnie is finished with metal. I don’t think he sees himself returning to that universe. The project we go into the studio with the music he’s worked on for years. He likes to have very much control before he even starts, and he’s always kind of polishing his work. So he has…yeah, a good work model basically.”
TIBM: Over the years your paintings, silkscreens and woodcuts have gradually garnered more attention, to the extent that you now have a following as an artist that is, to some extent, independent of your musical persona. How do you fit your visual art around all these musical projects you busy yourself with?
Gaahl: “I kind of work simultaneously with everything. There’s not a moment to rest, it’s a busy schedule, but I have a feeling that they kind of create a necessary distance from each other. So I use the different elements as a resting place.”
TIBM: Did opening your gallery on the waterfront in central Bergen change things for you significantly in terms of your working and personal life?
Gaahl: “Yes, because usually, I choose to isolate myself, but of course here I’m accessible every day. It’s of course changed the perspective and I kind of have to interfere with other people’s energy constantly. But it’s an interesting thing. I’ve finally decided one day in the week to have a rest. So that’s very different than how it used to be.”
TIBM: Within metal, and I guess Norway in a more general sense, you have an undeniable level of celebrity, which of course stands in contrast to your early years in the underground. Are you comfortable with that shift?
Gaahl: “I don’t know. But I basically don’t pay attention to it. I think if I paid attention to it, I probably would feel uncomfortable with it. But I basically choose to just ignore it. I’m just living in my own bubble in a way.”
Gaahls Wyrd – Bergen Nov ’15 (Full Album) 
TIBM: But, as one example, I think you’re probably one of the most photographed people in the metal scene in terms of people taking selfies with you at shows. That is obviously something that you have to participate in activities to an extent.
Gaahl: “Yeah. The selfie thing is of course… for me, it’s a boring 10 seconds. But it can be very interesting for the ones… it can mean a lot to the ones that take them. I never… it’s always awkward. But then again, I basically just don’t bring it with me. So, it doesn’t demand too much energy. Bergen is very comfortable, very laid back and empty. It’s a bit more hectic in Oslo and people have a different approach, so it’s a very different thing.”
TIBM: Speaking of visibility, there’s been a great surge of interest – partly because of bands like Enslaved and Wardruna, and in a broader sense TV shows, movies, videogames and various other things – when it comes to ancient Norse mythology and culture. That’s obviously something that you’ve incorporated in your music for so long – I mean, we were doing interviews about this subject 10 or 15 years ago – so I wondered how you felt about that greater recognition, whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing?
Gaahl: “It’s a good thing, those kinds of different vibes, but then again, it can easily turn into a fantasy camp and I guess that’s something that we won’t gain anything out of. This might be a step back in many ways. But then again,for me, I still kind of just have my own thing. I’ve worked within that universe for more than 30 years I would say, but more on a private basis. But it’s pretty common now, it has gotten that much focus. As it is now, I kind of feel that it’s more of a fantasy than a will to dive into the meanings and philosophy within it.”
TIBM: That is still very much the foundations of your spiritual perspective though?
Gaahl: “Yeah, in a very esoteric way. I have good references… since it’s so nature bound, it’s very easily linked and easy to rationalize. So it’s a good mirror.”
TIBM: In terms of Wardruna, would you say that you would be on the same page as Einar in a spiritual or philosophical sense?
Gaahl: “Yeah, we would. When I met Einar he wasn’t [sic] too much into the Norse universe, but he still was wearing similar…he had a very similar interest in – if one can speak of spirit gods and the spiritual energies – the non-physical existence. So we got along immediately. Of course, we met through Gorgoroth and we ended up with the Wardruna concept in 2001, we were already kind of creating it while being within Gorgoroth.
TIBM: I remember you once saying to me that your lyrics in Gorgoroth were quite Pagan, despite it being a satanic band. That the lyrics you were writing were sort of a predecessor of what you’re doing now in a sense?
Gaahl: “Yeah, in Gorgoroth I kind of just put one track on all the albums that were kind of [linked] to Gorgoroth’s past. So, it’s fairly Pagan-related from a different angle. Very selfish in a way. It comes from the same universe that I’m interested in, of painting words.”
TIBM: Ironically your most famous appearance to date is still probably the interview with you in the Headbangers Journeyfilm where you are talking about Satan. I guess that a lot of people still see that who haven’t followed your later career. Does that bother you at all?
Gaahl: “Nah! I answered what fuels Gorgoroth?’ and, of course, Gorgoroth is something else. It was the energy that represented Gorgoroth – it’s not a Gaahl reference, it’s a Gorgoroth reference.”
TIBM: So let’s conclude by looking at the future; do you think Gaahls Wyrd’s music will follow in a similar stylistic path as we’ve seen so far? Is the debut album kind of a template for what you might do moving forward, or is there something else you’re thinking to introduce to the mix?
Gaahl: “We’ll see, I have a lot of voices in my head at the moment [laughs]. I will go see where they are leading. I’m in the process of creating now and binding it down. I hope to surprise both the world and myself with the next release.”
TIBM: And your bandmates probably.
Gaahl: “Hopefully [both laugh]. That’s maybe even more important.”
Gaahls WYRD – GastiR – Ghosts Invited (2019) Full Album