Interview by Carina Lawrence / Dark Art Conspiracy
For the first time, the Norwegian music project Minneriket presents a full line-up of session musicians. Continuing the collaboration with Misstiq, Margarita Chernova and Norlene Olmedo introduced on the first new single, ‘Hjemlengsel’, which was released back in February 2021. The new single ‘Sorg og savn’, which was recently released on 25th June 2021, also features renowned musicians Māra Lisenko, Christina Rotondo, Elvann, Niklas Kveldulfsson, Ingrid.mariea and Maria Kosma. The latest single, ‘Sorg og savn‘ is the first glimpse of this new roster as vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Stein Akslen, the man behind Minneriket, expands his vision to bring forth a unique Romantic Black metal musical experience which is a sublime concoction of black metal, goth and classical music. We caught up with Stein to discuss this change in direction for him, the new singles and what the future holds, amongst other things. Find out all about it in this fascinating and insightful interview.
I’m sure you get asked this all the time, but how did you come up with the name Minneriket and what does it mean?
It roughly translates into “the realm of memories”. It’s nostalgic by nature. Not necessarily looking back, but mirroring a cyclical weltanschauung reflecting memories as both experiences, hopes, dreams and wishes.
The idea of a sphere of abstract behaviours is as old as man. We see it in a lot of philosophical and esoteric schools. The etheric channel of accumulated knowledge. The akashic records of theosophy? The allegory of the cave by Plato? A hybrid of the collective unconscious described by Jung and the chokmah. Throw some Blake in the mix with an artistic approach to the micro- and macrocosmos, and you have it. The point is, the bond between memories and feelings is more than the sum of our experiences. It’s internal and external at the same time.
Several years ago, I did my own translation of the old norse poem Voluspå, mostly because all other translations are weak, but also to really find the meaning hidden behind the words. A word is so much more than glossary, even Genesis acknowledges this. While I was taking this journey working on activating culture and knowledge hidden deep in the blood, listening to words long dead, the idea of a bigger realm came to be. This is what I’m tapping into, just a small part of it, and the translation was published in a book called Minneriket while I at the same time launched it more as a musical outlet.
What made you decide to begin Minneriket back in 2014?
It feels weird putting a starting date like that to it all. Truth is, the first recordings began early 2014, so that part is right. The book was published in 2010. On the up-coming album there are parts of the lyrics that was written all the way back in 2003. In a way, the concept has always been there, but it took time to shape it – or have it shape me – in a
way that would function both as a artistic and creative outlet, and make sense to other people.
Music is very accessible. It might not be the easiest genre to listen to, but it speaks in languages and tones that are both recognizable and challenging. It should be difficult. Nothing is worth having if it comes easy. You should deserve any profit you get. So I worked hard to create this as a expressionistic entity, and I expect the same dedication from the listeners.
Around that time I already had good response on music released with a few other bands, put up a home studio and just got to work really. After that I never stopped. I’m sure I could quote the prophet Isaiah there.
You describe your music as Norwegian Romantic Black Metal. How did you come to create this interesting black metal sound?
Black Metal flows in my veins, so having that as the root of the music is inevitable. But Black Metal has grown stale. I love putting on the old classics, but you’ve got to move further – there’s no point in sounding like Darkthrone anno 1994 just because Transilvanian Hunger is a killer album. It’s not the specific ingredients which made albums like that what
they are. Just like it’s not the headset-microphones that made Filosofem. What made these records into what they are is the agenda, the drive, the fuel behind them. Uncompromising creativity. A deep burning flame ignited by the endless possibilities. Bands doing the same thing today as a tribute to this is just sad.
So, I needed to take things further. What am I all about? I’m nostalgic and there’s something almost ritualistic to traditions. You need a solid foundation to grow. In my opinion all art is romantic. The Romantic era was an artistic and intellectual movement in Europe in the early 19th century focusing on the individual, on nature, on feelings above all.
I relate to this approach, the mystery of our surroundings, the yearning for something without a name, the focus on yourself, your experiences, your growth and your relation to that which surrounds you. It’s the only thing that makes sense to me if I am to stay artistic.
No walls, no barriers, no images, no politics, just pure, undefiled emotions. Raw, honest and self-reflecting. That is Romantic Black Metal.
What are some of your main musical and creative influences?
Today I don’t really know. I try to find inspiration in almost anything. I’m of course inspired by Burzum, not just have that music been genre defining, but the simplicity of it, the minimalistic and extremely emotional approach has been important for me. There’s no unnecessary information in those songs, no bricks in the wall just for show. That’s been important to me, carving out the music, removing the excess.
Other than that, inspiration is all around you if you choose to listen. Inspiration comes from the wind, from the rain, from the unheard sound of the sunrays, from the guy you see on TV, from the note before the commercial on the radio. Inspiration is words, beats, meanings, images, paintings, people, it’s everywhere. You just need to tune in and listen with more than just your ears.
You usually work alone, however, in your latest gothic black metal single, ‘Sorg og savn’ and your previous single, you enlisted a several guest musicians. What made you decide to collaborate this time and how did you come to work with all the musicians that you did?
After putting my ego to the side, I just realized there are things I am unable to do myself. The art shouldn’t suffer just because I don’t play all the instruments I need. I refused to be limited by my own shortcomings, so I wrote all the music as if I had all the people and instruments in the world at my convenience. Does it need opera? Okay. Harp? Strings?
Saxophone? I don’t play any of those, but no way I’ll re-arrange a song I have finished in my head just because I’ve never learned sax. So I stayed the course with my vision, and decided this music wouldn’t be released until I could get it just as I wanted it.
I’ve called in just about all the friendly favours I can. I have some great friends contributing on this music. Other than that I auditioned people, tested out who would work or not. Most did not work out. Luckily in the end I found some really great professionals who was able to understand music the same way I do, and also speak the same musical language.
How was the experience for you working with the others? Do you think you will have more collaborations going forward?
Mostly good. At least for me. I burned quite a few bridges trying to find the right crew. I don’t care how talented you are, if you’re a stuck-up diva then you’re out. There’s only room for one of those, and that seat is taken. I’m all about finding the right people, people who I trust uphold the highest standards while also accepting the framework here.
Minneriket is not a band in the traditional sense, I call all the shots, but I listen to the right people. There’s a full album coming later this year, with plenty more collaborators and session musicians.
It’s been tiresome to work like this, rewarding, but tiresome. Hopefully in the end the results are a lot closer to what I envisioned compared to if I were to do everything myself again.
Can you tell us a bit about the lyrical theme of ‘Sorg og savn’?
Sorg og savn is about watching your whole word drown in oceans around you, joining in the dance macabre as a drop of rain on the way down. Sometimes you need to lay everything waste in order to rebuild and regrow. That doesn’t mean it’s easy though, and even if it’s the right thing to do you can still feel sad about what you leave behind.
You can smile, you can laugh, you can cry. As the smoke clears and only ashes remain, you know you’re in a better place, but all wounds leave scars for the future. The song is mostly about coming to terms with necessary destruction and leaving pieces of yourself behind.
Shedding skin in the garden of Eden.
Earlier in the year, you also released the beautiful and sorrowful instrumental track Hjemlengsel, which featured guests musicians Misstiq, Margarita Chernova and Norlene Olmedo, who all feature on your new single too. How did that song come together, and what was the inspiration behind it?
Hjemlengsel was originally the intro for a much longer song on the upcoming album. As it is now, it still flows directly into it and the song which follows it on the labums picks up in the same key, but I decided to expand it and nurture it as its own thing. It was worthy of life
by itself. It was a good way to show the audience that Minneriket is moving in a different direction while at the same time testing out the response.
How different and challenging has it been recording during the pandemic compared to before?
Most of the album was completed long before the pandemic hit. It’s just been taking some time putting all the pieces together. I’ve always worked alone, and must of the guest musicians live in different countries anyway, so the actual recording process is pretty much as it would have been anyways. There have been some delays though, you just can’t
escape those. Not just the global pandemic which has taken a toll on everyone, but there were some riots, wildfires, personal issues and other non-constructive happenings which made me have to rearrange some plans during the album. People have bled into this music.
Have you been working on any other new material or a new album? If so, what can we expect from upcoming material?
Hjemlengsel and Sorg og savn was a taste of what’s to come. I actually just finished the mix of the full-length album earlier today, and will have it sent to mastering in a short while. It has mostly the same line-up as what’s already been revealed. There are 10 songs in total, six of them metal tracks like Sorg og savn, and four of them instrumental pieces like Hjemlengsel.
In total this album has been in progress for the last six years really, working on this simultaneously as other music which has already been released. There are some other projects in progress too, but at the moment this will be the last from Minneriket for a while. With this upcoming one I feel I’ve said what I want to say.
Other than music during the pandemic and lockdowns, have you discovered a new hobby or anything or just keeping busy with music?
Well the world turned upside-down in what felt like a matter of seconds. All my usual hobbies got cancelled (I usually train kickboxing and participate in street runs and OCR- races), and due to the general fatigue of the world we’ve been living in other things were just left alone. I usually take courses, study languages, or at least keep busy somehow, but most interests just died away. There’s been a lot of GTA online…
I spent a lot of the initial pandemic period finishing up this upcoming album. Was nice having a lot of time free to just dive into it and stay there. One period I succumbed so far into conformity that I even started baking cakes! That’s when you know you’ve really lost it. When you start baking cakes you’re just two steps away from naming a plant. Ah fuck it,
I have a plant. With a name. Isolation is bad for you, kids.
Is there anything else you would like to add or share with us?
Hodl apes, MOASS is coming!
Listen to the new single ‘Sorg og savn’ below:
Sorg og savn is out now on all relevant platforms. Full-length album coming later this year 2021.
For more on Minneriket: