Keep Of Kalessin - Torbjørn Schei
24/02/12 || Charl du Plessis
Norwegian extreme metallers Keep of Kalessin need no formal introduction to the metal scene. Formed in 1993 and boasting a collection of five successful studio albums to date, they are hard at work whether it be touring or recording. They have played with some of the best in the business and include the likes of Gorgoroth, Sepultura, Death Angel, Belphegor, Melechesh, Samael, 1349, Septic Flesh, Behemoth, Dimmu Borgir, Amon Amarth, Hypocrisy, Kataklysm, Exodus and Enslaved… so don’t fuck with them.
Judging by the GD ratings over the years they are overall well respected around here. Love them or hate them, they are hitting their shit hard with 2012 being no exception. I was fortunate enough to catch up with vocalist Torbjørn whilst in between shows and an overall hectic fucking schedule by the sounds of things. Thanks man, much appreciated.
Global Domination: So you have just finished playing an European tour with “Samael” Give us a short run down on how the tour went? (best shows and worst shows?)
Torbjørn: The tour was great as expected. It’s always a pleasure touring with the guys from Samael and the Polish crew from Massive Music We have toured with them before and made good friends, so we knew this tour was going to go smooth. There were a lot of good shows, and lots of shows in Eastern Europe where we have been wanting to go back to for a long time. The best shows must have been those in Eastern Europe. Always a great crowd and nice people! Z7 in Switzerland is always a favourite of ours. The worst must have been in Germany, in some town I don’t even remember the name of…
Do Black metal bands of today live up to their old predecessors like Mayhem, Satyricon, Emperor and Darkthrone?
Depends what you mean by living up to it, lots of bands are trying to be old school, “true” and all of that. It gives them no identity of their own and no musical progression. They are just redoing what’s been done too many times before.
What are your influences of today, especially when developing as a musician?
We listen to all kinds of music and take inspiration from any style. A good song is a good song if you know what I mean. I think it’s important to broaden your listening habits if you are going to create something unique. If you only listen to the same music you are making, you’ll just end up copying it and not creating something new. I listen a lot to singers like Layne Staley, Chris Cornell and a lot of 70’s stuff, lots of great singers.
Do you as the vocalist write the lyrics? Give us a rundown of what the words behind Keep of Kalessin is all about?
We write most of it together, forming the storyline and the concept behind the albums. “Armada” and “Kolossus” is one long story of a hero’s journey from mortality to acension, fighting men and gods,to finally becoming a god himself. It’s told in many inividual stories but has an overall storyline that runs through it as a whole.
Prior to you and Keep of Kalessin, any previous bands worth of mentioning?
I played in a grunge/rock band called Twinsoul for 10 years. After that I joined up with our drummer, Vyl, in a band called Subliritum. They are still playing and both of us are featured on their new CD.
When not working with Keep of Kalessin, are you involved in any other acts?
Absolutely, I work as a producer/songwriter for other artists, so that takes up a lot of my time. My new band is called Hellish Outcast, and we just did a huge promorun in the UK. The first CD will be out on the 1st of April.
Who are your current favourite metal bands?
I’ve always loved Exodus, Machine Head and Pantera. I listen to a lot of it! But last year I think I only listened to the Norwegian band Insense, they are one of the best new bands I’ve ever heard.
There’s a gradual progression in Keep of Kalessin’s music from “Through Times of War” to “Reptilian”. Though the same style is very much alive in all your albums, what can we expect from you in the near future?
We are in writing mode right now so we are working hard on new songs. It will be closer to “Reptilian” rather than that of “Through Times of War”. We are always trying to improve in making every album unique. There’s going to be a lot of thrash in it, that’s for sure!!!
You recently represented Norway at the 2010 Eurovision, how do you feel about black metal being nominated for Grammy’s and competing in competitions of this sort?
It was a great experience and one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. Being a metal band or not, it’s just a songwriting contest in which we came third.
Some people say it’s wrong for metal to be played so that everyone can hear it. Personally I don’t get it, what are they so scared of?
Do you feel that black metal music should have a commercialized frontier?
Well it has already I guess, with bands like Dimmu Borgir for example, who’s selling a lot more albums than any other Norwegian artist. It’s a good thing, ‘cause they are opening doors for other bands and spreading good music to more people!
What is your current favourite Keep of Kalessin track?
My favourite track is “Escape the Union” from the “Kolossus” album, very well-written and fun to sing.
The metal world of late is very fond of labeling styles of metal music, according to you, how do you describe Keep of Kalessin’s music?
Well I’m not fond of labeling, it’s either good or bad. Keep of Kalessin is a mix of everything we like. But in my opinion extreme metal would be the closest description.
All your albums up to now are self-produced, how long does it typically take you to record an album? You set yourself a time limit on what needs to be done?
It takes about half a year, but that is because a lot of the writing goes on in the studio. It helps having our own, so we don’t have to pay by the hour. It gives us time to get the best takes out of everyone so we don’t have to edit it afterwards. It’s important for us to sound like it’s played by humans and not machines. We have time limits, but we never keep to them!
Considering you are already in with the Norwegian audience (“Reptilian” peaked at no. 2 on the Norwegian album charts), which other markets are you focusing on?
We are selling albums in Europe and America mostly, which is also the obvious marked for this kind of music. But we are always trying to go somewhere new, we hope to try Asia and Australia someday soon.
Your last two albums were released through Nuclear Blast, would you say they have had substantial contribution to your success to date? (I mean how much weight does a record label actually carry nowadays for you?)
It helps being on a big label because of their name and network, but it doesn’t always help if you are not on their priority list. I think we have done most of the job ourselves, touring endlessly and promoting through various channels.
What gear do you use on stage, any effects at all?
I use a wireless mic, which is connected to an in-ear monitoring system where I have all the other instruments playing too. The setup is really good, the monitoring setup is the same every night plus you get to protect your ears. I don’t use any effects on stage, it’s usually up to the sound guy. Usual stuff like reverb, compressors and delay, nothing fancy.
Any plans to play any of the big metal festivals in 2012?
Yes, but I’m not at liberty to tell at this point, sorry!
Any countries you would like to play in that you have not yet been to?
Australia and Brazil is on the list for us.
When on tour and playing constant shows you guys at least have a decent alcohol flow after hours or is the relationship strictly business?
It’s a nice mix of the two I guess, but we are professionals and keep it decent :-)
When all the spikes and leather come off, what do you keep yourself busy with in your non-Keep of Kalessin time?
Hehe we don’t even have spikes and leather… But when I’m home I mostly work on my other musical projects. I also spend hours and hours on photography and making videos. It’s not as known as my music (yet), so it’s just for fun for now.
Well that’s it!! Thanks so much for giving us a bit of your time for the interview. Any last words?
Thanks for having me, check out our new CD when it comes out!!!